Thursday, September 8, 2011

September 8: Teenage Fanclub, "The Concept"

Artist: Teenage Fanclub
Song: "The Concept"
Album: Bandwagonesque
Year: 1991

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Though it has been said countless times before, it is often the groups that make a purposeful effort to go against the current musical trends who create the most enduring songs of their generation, and yet these same bands are often lost in the shadow of the "big" groups of their particular time period.  This has rarely been as true as the bands who did not deploy the "grunge" sound in the early 1990's, as there was a very small market for such musical rebels.  However, the handful of bands that stuck to their sound during this era have without question remained just as strong as the decades have passed, and few bands showed as much sheer talent and musical beauty as one finds within the first two albums from Scottish icons, Teenage Fanclub.  Blending together influences ranging from Neil Young and The Beatles to Sonic Youth and The Buzzcocks, one can cite Teenage Fanclub as one of the most original fusions of the decades that preceded them, and the fact that they were able to extract such a wonderfully unique sound from these influences is much the reason their music is just as enjoyable and relevant today as it was more than twenty years ago.  It is this longevity that sets them aside from a majority of the "big" groups of the early 1990's, and there are few songs that better represent this reality or display the sheer magnificence of the band than one can find in Teenage Fanclub's brilliant 1991 song, "The Concept."

It is almost impossible to accurately describe everything that occurs musically throughout "The Concept," as it is jam-packed in complexity and emotion all across the six-minute run-time.  Throughout the song, the band explores countless aspects of the musical arrangement, fusing together everything from folk to hard rock to "jangle pop" in a flawless fashion.  Though in many cases, such an attempt would result in the song being muddled or confused, the band manages to give "The Concept" a flow and mood that is truly unparalleled, and the musicianship by each member is far beyond that of their musical peers.  The guitars of Raymond McGinley and Normal Blake serve as the base for the songs' spirit, and the contrast in sounds from the almost acoustic tone to the wonderfully distorted fuzz is truly the best of both worlds.  It is this duality in personality that allows "The Concept" the push so far beyond other recordings, and it also enables the track to have a fantastic amount of attitude, yet still appeal to fans of a more melodic musical arrangement.  The rhythm section of bassist Gerard Love and drummer Brendan O'Hare match this tone, as they help "The Concept" to reach a sway and swing that were a perfect match for the feeling of many of the youth of the era.  The addition of string and horn arrangements from Joseph McAlinden complete this almost overflowing composition, and there are few songs that "carry away" listeners in as enjoyable a manner as one can experience on "The Concept."

Adding to the outright perfection found in every moment of "The Concept," the singing of Norman Blake becomes the very definition of the word "beautiful," and his style would become the influence for a number of bands that followed.  Easily working all across the entire vocal scale, Blake shows the true power of a vocal performance, as the moments where he is simply singing notes are just as powerful as when he is singing the gorgeous lyrics of the song.  Furthermore, the fact that there seems to be no limit for "where" he can sing enables "The Concept" to gain far more depth, as Blake works his pitch to match the emotions coming forth from both the music and lyrics.  There is no question that this is the finest performance of Blake's career, and it is the sort of showing which makes one want to play the song over and over due to the sheer level of beauty and enjoyment.  Yet it is also due to the perfectly constructed lyrics that push "The Concept" to such amazing heights, and Blake manages to capture an age-old concept in a completely new light.  The outright adoration, yet clear vulnerability that one can detect within the words to "The Concept" is nothing short of superb, and Blake paints a loving, vivid image of a female that one can argue is the very essence of "the hipster."  However, this should not be taken with the more modern sense of the term, as there is a gentle fondness in every word that makes the vocal portion of "The Concept" absolutely unforgettable.

The sort of perfection found all across "The Concept" served as a fitting introduction to Bandwagonesque, which remains the finest moment in the Teenage Fanclub catalog, as well as standing as one of the most influential records of the entire decade.  In fact, the album gained a rather unique status when Spin magazine gave it the title of "Best Album of 1991," becoming one of the only publications not to give that honor to Nirvana's Nevermind.  However, few can argue that Teenage Fanclub's record was anything less than completely worthy, as it excels in every area, and certainly has a far wider musical appeal than almost any other record.  It is the way that the album beautifully blends the distorted fuzz of Neil Young with the infectious pop-appeal of Big Star that pushes the record to greatness, and "The Concept" perfectly displays every one of these elements.  The musical arrangement is impossible to forget, as there is so much going on simultaneously that one is able to hear new aspects with each listen.  This fact, along with the reality that the musicianship is fr beyond that of almost any of Teenage Fanclub's peers makes it a bit hard to grasp how the group still remains slightly unknown in many large music markets.  However, regardless of their success, there is no question that Teenage Fanclub were massively influential on entire musical movements that followed the release of their magnificent 1991 song, "The Concept."

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