They were destined to be the next big thing before Nirvana arrived in ’91. They literally launched the career of Oasis (former label mates who called them “the best band in the world”). Those two strikes aside, Teenage Fanclub’s indie-cred, sugar-sweet melodies and twinkling guitars have forged them a fine career. But as a textbook “cult band” (under-the radar commercial success bemoaned by drooling, faithful fanbase) over six albums, the Fanclub have literally painted themselves into a power-pop corner – you know, the neighborhood where the three-chord songs about girls live.
Howdy! is the beginning of the journey out of the cul-de-sac but it’s gonna be a long way to the top if they want to rock & roll again. The album gets into gear about a third of the way in – with the ambient power-pop “Near You” – and peaks with the eleventh track, the simple, beautifully meditative love song, “My Uptight Life.” In between fall a number of little exercises that stretch the Fanclub’s already flexy pop muscle – a little mellotron and melodica here, a little horn or string sting there. The three-minute pop song formula’s expanded to the four-minute mini-epic (“Cul de Sac”) and yes, there are still a number of super-contemplative songs about the redemptive yet sometimes temporally transformative power of love (“Dumb” “Dumb” “Dumb”). Believers in the Fanclub’s power to change the shape of pop as we know it might just have to wait until the next go around; for now, Howdy! is a side trip on the pleasantly pleasing road to pop nirvana.