Music fans are generally accepting of change. That’s why the bands that last the longest and have the biggest fanbases usually change their sound from song to song or from album to album. It doesn’t have to be a drastic switch a la Kid A, just enough to keep our attention. Sadly, Teenage Fanclub must have forgotten about this for their latest record, the utterly below-average Shadows.
There are two main problems with this record. First, nearly every song has the same pace, tone, and style, which means it’s a mid-tempo acoustic/electric combination that feels laid-back. This type of breezy music isn’t a bad thing, but it doesn’t work 12 times in a row. Once you reach the halfway point, you’ll either have fallen asleep or you’ll be screaming at the record to change. This is especially true when it comes to the vocals.
Despite the fact that three of the four band members wrote and sang on four songs each, they try their best to sound exactly the same on all of them. There are some differences between their voices (lead guitarist Raymond McGinley has slightly deeper voice than the other two), but the harmonies used on almost every song dilute their differences. The main issue isn’t their actual voices but how they’re used. For all the tracks, all three singers go with a very mellow, relaxed style of singing. Sometimes this works well, such as in the breezy pop opener, “Sometimes I Don’t Believe In Anything” and the sugary “Baby Lee”. Often though, it’s simply too much of the same thing. I get the album is supposed to be laid-back, but you shouldn’t sound like you took too much Valium before recording.
The result of this lazy feel is that the song’s meaning becomes almost irrelevant and creates a disconnect between the singer’s vocals and his lyrics. For example, the chorus of “Shock and Awe” says, “Wake me up when the conflict is over/I aim for a peaceful life.” Yet McGinley sounds like he’s singing from a beach in the Caribbean. By creating very similar vocal tones in every track, Teenage Fanclub removes any sense of passion or emotion from this record.
The second problem with Shadows is that most of the numbers are just mediocre. You can only get away with having an album full of repeated tones and tempos if the songwriting really shines, and that just doesn’t happen in this case. Most of the tracks are instantly forgettable and all blend together. Only a few exceptions exist. “The Fall” is a slower, acoustic song that takes full advantage of the band’s harmonies but doesn’t overdo it like several other tracks. The production by John McEntire creates a very crisp, clear sound and the slow, electric guitar solo is a nice touch. The other highlight is “Dark Clouds”, a somber piano ballad supported by melodic strings. These two also stand out because they separate themselves from the rest of the dull repetition that drags the record down.
Teenage Fanclub’s overuse of the same tempo, tones, instrumentation, and vocal style really suck any enjoyment out of listening to Shadows. The few good songs to be found here are all towards the front, and the rest is filler of the worst kind. If you’re looking to get something out of this record, stick to the first five songs. Beyond that, the rest isn’t good for much else besides falling asleep.