For the Glaswegian power-poppers in Teenage Fanclub, working with producer John McEntire of Chicago post-rockers Tortoise might seem like a departure. And thatï¿½s because it pretty much is. Theyï¿½ve moved their harmony-rich songcraft from Crazy Horse-like guitar grind to more relaxed settings over the years. But McEntire nudges them gently into new territory here — and not just to the skylines of the Windy City alluded to on the album art.
On Man-Made, the rhythms are generally static, almost Krautrock-like — drum fills are in short supply here. Most of the guitar solos get treated and processed ï¿½til they buzz and hum like amplifiers. At times, the fear lingers that McEntire will perform a disservice similar to his compadre Jim Oï¿½Rourkeï¿½s on Wilcoï¿½s A Ghost is Born, making the songs artful yet cold and joyless. But at worst, McEntire renders the songs on Man-Made a tad monochromatic. Most of the time, the production and songs come together seamlessly.
On opener ï¿½Itï¿½s All in My Mindï¿½ and ï¿½Save,ï¿½ the sparse production highlights the little twists and turns of the melodies. They subvert your expectations of guitar-pop while remaining catchy all the same. Imagine Brian Eno working with Badfinger and youï¿½ve got a good idea of whatï¿½s going on here.
Teenage Fanclub appears to be one of very few bands to actually master something approaching democracy. The twelve songs on Man-Made are evenly split between the three songwriters: Norman Blake, Gerard Love and Raymond McGinley (Frances Macdonald rounds out the group). But it can be a bit difficult for the non-devotee to figure out the differences in their writing styles.
Nevertheless, between the stilled beauty of McGinleyï¿½s ï¿½Only with You,ï¿½ the moody folk of Blakeï¿½s ï¿½Cellsï¿½ and the relatively frenzied tempo (by this albumï¿½s standards, anyway) of Loveï¿½s ï¿½Born Under a Good Sign,ï¿½ everyone does his best to keep things interesting.