Thursday, June 05, 2008

"The World'll Be Okay" /
Teenage Fanclub

Finally I get it.

I've had these guys on my iTunes for a couple years, but somehow I never really listened to them. They never come up in my shuffle, which I guess isn't surprising -- I only have 10 of their songs on there, compared to the complete works of Nick Lowe (if someone made a bootleg of Nick gargling in the morning I'd probably put it on my iTunes); it's no contest who surfaces more often on the shuffle. If they do cycle up, I probably think it's Big Star and pay no attention. I was mystified, to tell you the truth. How could Nick Hornby have steered me wrong?

So I made a concerted effort to listen to Teenage Fanclub, on the advice of a couple fansters whose taste I totally trust, but I couldn't get past the power-pop surface (at least The Romantics and the Knack have irresistible hooks to pull you in). It might have helped if I'd listened to Teenage Fanclub when I was in college -- there's something indelible about the music you loved in college. (No other explanation for my ABBA fanship.) But they weren't around when I was in college; this album, Songs From Northern Britain, came out in 1997, though it feels a lot more vintage than that.

But I recently organized my iPod into loads of fresh playlists (new dog, lots of walking in the park -- the iPod is my new best friend) and I put "The World'll Be Okay" on a playlist of songs with the words "all right" or "okay" in the titles. I know, it sounds hokey, but it happens to work as a playlist. And now every time that song comes up I'm grooving totally.

What I've finally figured out is that Teenage Fanclub isn't about hooks (except for "What You Do To Me" -- now that one is pure homage to Big Star). They're about texture, and that's a whole 'nuther thing. The guitar line weaves a psychedelic spell that gradually mesmerizes you, but ONLY if you're not "listening." Do I imagine a trace of the Byrds in there, like "Eight Miles High"?

This song is drenched with angst over a long-distance relationship -- "I talk to you by satellite / I hope before they reach you, space will make the words sound right" -- and that's a song topic that always hits home for me. It's more wistful than Franz Ferdinand's "Eleanor Get Your Boots On" but more disoriented than Simon and Garfunkel's "Kathy's Song" . . . hmmm, I feel a new playlist coming on.

But the perspective definitely gets trippy, like when the singer (Raymond McGinness on this one) says, "I don't know where to draw the line / The flat horizon stretches out between your world and mine / And where I go will follow no design." That insistently repeated refrain, "you know the world'll be okay," has a melancholy ring that deepens the more he repeats it. Because this guy doesn't believe the world will be okay; he's lonely, and he needs that girl -- he needs her to be with him right now.

Eventually the lyrics get pretentious: "I waste my time with magazines / The pages live life for you when your needs don't match your means / But your cares will suppress my selfish genes." Sorry guys, but after Robyn Hitchcock my standards for vague nonsense are set pretty darn high, and that softly earnest vocal leaves no room for irony. But I'll forgive them, just because of those lush harmonies, like a big pillow you can sink into.

Well, I'm relieved, that's all I can say. And now I have hope -- maybe someday I'll even figure out what the big deal is about Joy Division.

The World'll Be Okay sample


Uncle E said...

I'm glad you've come to enjoy these guys, Holly.

Holly A Hughes said...

Yes, you were right about them. But I still reserve my judgment about Joy Division.

Anonymous said...

I think they're the worst english band ever.

Holly A Hughes said...

Well, that's your prerogative. Though, frankly, they'd have a lot of competition for that title. Are they worse than Flock of Seagulls, or Mike and the Mechanics?*

At least you said "English." It's entirely possible that there's an even worse Scottish band somewhere...

* I'm just kidding, I like Mike & the Mechanics...;)