The sound and style of Scottish indie legends Teenage Fanclub is one of comforting familiarity, and it's very much business as usual on their 11th studio album Endless Arcade. Behind the scenes, however, there has been something of a reconfiguration as well as the challenges that Covid-19 has burdened all musicians with during this last year. Originally scheduled for release in 2020, the Bellshill-based outfit's latest LP arrives five years on from 2016's Here.
Since the late 80s, the band's original members are down to two following the departure of bassist Gerard Love in 2018. With founders Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley joined again by drummer and Dave McGowan now switching to bass, the keyboard position has been given to former Gorkys Zygotic Mynci frontman Euros Childs, who has previously worked with Blake on their side project Jonny.
Endless Arcade gets off to a fine start, immediately proving anyone right to think that huge changes of direction are not likely for a band so settled into what they have always had a gift for; pure and melodic guitar-based indie power pop. Opening the LP is the seven-minute plus 'Home', laying out the warming reflection in a way that enables the song to breathe through its contemplative lyrics, the subtle breeze of a chorus and wondrous extended guitar passages. "Don't be afraid of this life" is the very direct sentiment behind the title track, which also plays home to some fascinatingly quirky synth sounds, Childs proving his worth as an addition to the group while not coming across as too much of a distraction over the course of the album.
Although the musical backdrop is that one of 1960s pop exuberance, the lovelorn lyrics of 'Warm Embrace' are key to the overall direction of this album, with Blake penning his share of the 12 songs after a long period of personal problems, and judging by these lyrical themes, perhaps a challenging period in terms of love. With its ticking motorik rhythm, in hindsight, 'Everything's Falling Apart' could be seen as defiance, again with a lyrical outlook markedly bleaker than that of the relatively sunny atmosphere. Beginning with a gorgeous guitar part, 'Come With Me' offers exquisite harmonies and soulful, bittersweet melodies bearing echoes of the 1970s, while 'In Our Dreams' comes from a more upbeat direction, delivering the best guitar sounds on the album and the beautifully understated single 'I'm More Inclined' brings with it grounded yet calmly uplifting hooks. The magnificent 'Back In The Day' is another clear album highlight, a poignant piece of songwriting, making sense of heartbreak and loss, underlining the record's other theme of finding a way forwards.
Thriving on its sparse arrangements, 'The Future' is a dusky melancholic delight, while 'Living With You' switches around the juxtaposition, putting the album's darkest and most intense moment to its most positive lyric. Soft, graceful closer 'Silent Song' will undoubtedly strike a chord with many feeling the effects of lockdown and self-imposed isolation during recent times, hoping to see the rainbow at the end of the storm, reminding us that "everything's grey outside, but we know the rain will subside".
While very little of Endless Arcade strikes the target as immediately as their seminal works of the 90s, this cohesive collection grows with each listen, revealing more about the authors and their states of mind during the writing and recording of this album. Along with very possibly Blake's most personal and open expressions yet in terms of lyric writing, missing elements previously brought to the table by the now-absent Love seem to be compensated for nicely. While this may leave the LP with a slight lack of diversity as previous offerings, it does make for a greater deal of focus overall. The continued embracing of their natural musical maturity is producing some fine material. Still very much necessary and always welcome in this day and age.