For Teenage Fanclub Endless Arcade is a warm, rich, and fully formed album with emotional depth for days. That depth is cultivated from a long career of strong and influential songwriting. The album is out on streaming services today, with physical copies on both CD and 12-inch vinyl available to order now, too. It’s been a while in the making and they’re ready for fans and newcomers to have a listen.
Raymond McGinley’s song “Endless Arcade” is the title track, but he and Norman Blake share the role of songwriters now that co-founding member Gerard Love departed in 2018. McGinley says, “We are pretty pleased. We made this record, we were in the studio, then we were on the road and then back in the studio doing a lot more stuff. We feel, I mean, everyone says, ‘That’s a good record I’ve just made,’ but we feel pretty satisfied with how it all came out and how the whole thing flows from one song to another song. And obviously, it’s me and Norman writing the songs and recording them. We are writing out of our own heads without any regard to anything other than self-indulgence about writing the songs or sit together, we’ll work together well in the band, pleased to hear the band, I said on this record here, everyone’s playing together and all that.”
Whether falling through the rabbit hole of hits from the ’90s to find Bandwagonesque at the bottom or following breadcrumbs from Grand Prix back here to 2021, Endless Arcade is lyrically thoughtful and shows growth of perspective on life. It builds like a crescendo at the top of their career. It’s not a rogue wave, but a perfectly timed pipeline swell that gathers up their life’s work and drops it calmly at the shore. If there’s a tidal force riding through Teenage Fanclub’s time, it’s a smooth ride from the past to the present and beyond the rabbit hole.
McGinley reflects on his own journey with Teenage Fanclub. “I think there’s something I love, and it does happen when you meet people because, as a band, you go through life, and you start dragging all this history behind you, and certain people have a certain receive wisdom about what the band is and who we were and certain periods and bands. Let’s say, and occasionally you meet someone and this has happened to people.
On the last record, meeting a couple of people maybe from people [who] interviewed us, people in their early 20s and they’re saying, ‘Oh, I’ve only had this new album. I don’t know anything about you. I heard the song and I liked it, but I haven’t heard any of the other records,’ and I love that because sometimes there’s too much contextualization, and the beautiful thing about music is, it doesn’t need any context. You hear the sound that is converted into the ear and you get something from it. You don’t really need to know who the people were that made that. I mean, it can be nice; we’re all curious as human beings, but one of the great things is that sometimes, compared to say visual art, you need to know something around it to try and get it or whatever.
“But sometimes music, it just comes out into the air, and it goes into your ears, and it hits your bones, and you take something from or someone can take something from it and have no idea who we are or where we’re from or anything about us. And hopefully, people can still perceive things in that way sometimes. So, both those, we are happy with everything we’ve done as a band but hopefully, some people are still here, done it for the first time and get something from it and don’t know anything about us. All of that is good to us.”
Endless Arcade is easy on the ears like a perfect shirt on your back. Teenage Fanclub’s over-30-year career is reflected here, and it’s lovely. It’s a sonically beautiful collection of songs made by very keen musicians and the care for the craft cooks like a trusted, seasoned cast-iron pan. The album is woven with the fibers of personal stories, and the construction is a durable fabric of experience.
“Norman’s songs are personal, obviously, listen to songs like the “Sun Won’t Shine on Me” or Back In The Day,” slightly more, because obviously Norman’s been going through some stuff in his personal life, which I’m not going to get into. The songs are there, and he’s channeled what he’s been thinking into songs. And that’s all you can do as a songwriter is show something of yourself somehow.”
How does something so personal come together for Teenage Fanclub? McGinley draws a map from his experience and six strings to tape reels and mastered tracks, “I think first thing about writing songs or being in that frame of mind, first of all, you have to allow yourself the space and indulgence to be … I don’t think any of us work around everyday of our lives thinking, ‘Oh yeah, we’re songwriters and this is what we do.’ I think with people that play guitar and mess around with ideas, and you’ve always got those things floating around, but I think there comes a point say for me when I kind of think, ‘Okay, I need to actually sit down and focus on this thing’ and actually form some of these desperate little ideas and sketches into songs and allow yourself a point where you can be self-indulgent in a good way. And just put other stuff out of your head and just find a place where you’re comfortable.
“And for me, I just have to zone out and not think about anything else. Otherwise, I can always think about ideas for songs if I don’t think about it, that doesn’t sound stupid, that has to be a subconscious thing. Then you can let your conscious brain make time make sense of it afterwards after you’ve dug some things out of yourself. But yeah, but the process over all the years we’ve been in the band, I don’t think it’s changed a great deal. I think we changed incrementally as people like everyone does, every day’s a little different than the day before, and you approach things a little differently.
You think about something today you didn’t think of it yesterday, and we just approach things—I mean, who knows? Maybe if I could go back and time to who we were in 1991, and I could observe us as a band and as people, I might think, ‘Oh, they are really different then the way I’m now,’ but I can remember being in the studio, making Bandwagonesque like this, not sitting around being in the studio making a new record, and it’s not massively different.
We would just do the same things in the same way. Obviously, the people are different, the times are different, but we’ve tried to free ourselves of the back idea if you know what I mean? We don’t try to reinvent the wheel or anything, we try to do things instinctively and do things from a point of view of feel and expression rather than having some conscious thing or trying to conform to, we’re just trying to feel it away into things and through things and do things instinctively. If it seems like a good idea, we’ll do it. If it doesn’t, we wouldn’t do it and we’re just doing the same thing for probably 32 years or however long the band’s been around.”
Endless Arcade has a beautiful landscape. The sound is bright and colorful, invoking sunshine. Sitting in the foreground is “Home,” a song that’s 7:04 in length, and foreshadowing what’s on the horizon. Leading the album with a jam of such length is bold; it begs to be listened to and not just consumed like meaningless content. From deeply meaningful songs like “Come with Me” and “Back In The Day” set to gorgeous ethereal guitar to “The Future” and “Silent Song” that envelop the mind like sitting under a soft rain with a good umbrella on a summer’s night, Endless Arcade is a journey of sound and contemplation that begs to set up a picnic in one of its valleys and stay all day on each note.
What does McGinley think of the vision of listeners sitting with the needle spinning on his album? His ideas are a little less romantic, “I think most people are indifferent to most things that they encounter in their life. So first of all, in terms of someone who’s actually putting the needle on the record, they’re putting themselves in a space that they’re going to give some time to get something from it. But all we hope is that we’ve done something that somehow it has some effect on someone, will move them in some way.
But I think when we are making the records, we’re more obsessed by our own idea of what we’re doing; we’re trying to please ourselves. And then at the end of all that, it goes to other people. But everyone experiences music definitely. But that’s the unknown thing that whatever it is that we get from music, people that love music. And personally, sometimes I find it hard to describe that experience so what it is and you’re just listening to something and everyone has different things and different views in their life or some kind of music that means something to you. And it’s not necessarily a literal conscious interpretation. So, what we hope is that people get something from it but get what they need from it.”
No matter how people consume the music or what people get from Endless Arcade, the writing and performance prowess is on display and as good as ever with a new sage perspective that the entire band contributed to and McGinley is proud of. He finalizes his thoughts, “The first song we recorded was the song “I’m More Inclined” that Norman wrote. The second song we recorded was “Everything is Falling Apart.” And that came together quite well in terms of writing the song and how it came together in the studio and everyone’s contribution and all that so I’m pretty happy with that one. But I’d say overall, we’re happy with the album as a whole either way, as from start to finish. We feel pleased with the whole thing.”
Listen to Endless Arcade below, and add it to your favorite streaming service or pick up a physical copy here.
Images courtesy of Teenage Fanclub. Featured image credit: Donald Milne.