Man-Made, 180G Black Vinyl LP Record, MRG262LP
Scotland's Teenage Fanclub are the standard-bearers of modern power pop. Eight albums into their career, no one else comes close to their mastery of the genre, and when you think about it, the pieces for their run of remarkably consistent albums were in place from the beginning. The band has three accomplished songwriters whose voices blended as though nature intended it; what it lacked is a sense of adventurous experimentation, and as such, their discography is consistent almost to a fault, always good but never surprising or amazing.
It's possible that the band felt the need for a bit of a shake-up when it came time to record Man-Made, and they traveled to Chicago to record with John McEntire at his Soma Electronic Music Studio. The change of venue and the choice of McEntire are the kinds of moves that could precipitate real change in a band's sound, but as it turns out the record is full of the same intensely classicist power pop that's filled every Teenage Fanclub album. McEntire's influence is felt keenly on the edges of the music, though, in the textures of the guitars and bass and in the injection of a host of buzzing and burbling keyboards low in the mix. So while it's not a reinvention, the production does bring in a subtle infusion of the kind of energy and youthful vigor that was missing from recent outings like Howdy! and Songs from Northern Britain and makes Man-Made possibly the band's best outing since 1992's near-masterpiece Bandwagonesque.
The tracklist is split amongst four songs each from Norman Blake, Gerard Love, and Raymond McGinley. Blake's finest is opener "It's All in My Mind", which features the band's trademark gentle harmonies through a monster hook that counter-intuitively pulls back from the verse. Francis MacDonald's drums give the song an insistent beat while buzzing organ and e-bowed guitar quietly mingle in the background to lend the sound a little extra punch. Blake's "Slow Fade" is an invigorating nod to the swifter tempos and louder volumes of the band's early-90s salad days, whipping by in less than two minutes and including a spry if somewhat tuneless guitar solo. -Pitchfork