Cat's Cradle presents
MRG30 Kick-Off: Teenage Fanclub with Eric Bachmann and The Love Language
The Love Language, Eric Bachmann
1711 Saxapahaw-Bethlehem Church Road
Saxapahaw, NC, 27340
Doors 7:00 PM / Show 7:30 PM
The first Teenage Fanclub single, 1990’s “Everything Flows,” was all about getting older and finding your way: Right from the beginning, the Scottish band somehow inherently understood the joy and confusion of forging a creative path. Even with that knowledge, the band’s three equally proficient and prodigious songwriters—Norman Blake, Raymond McGinley, and Gerard Love—probably wouldn’t have predicted that this path would still be unfolding nearly 30 years later. Steadily, Teenage Fanclub have built an incredible catalog of gleaming pop songs. It’s been a relatively straight line in pursuit of pop perfection, from the snarlier early days to the highly vaunted Bandwagonesque to the grand Songs from Northern Britain to their measured, contemplative latest, 2016’s Here.
The band spent a decent chunk of 2018 looking back, something they’re not inclined to do, but duty called: Five classic albums originally released between 1991 through 2000 were remastered at Abbey Road and lovingly reissued in Europe, and Teenage Fanclub took that as a challenge to relearn nearly every song from that era and plan a special series of three-night stands in the UK during which to play them.
A big plus to relearning the oldies: They’d have a bigger pool of songs to choose from live, something they still cherish. A trip around the world was planned, starting with Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. It turned out, though, that Love’s enthusiasm for touring far-off places had waned, while the rest of the band consider touring to be crucial fuel for creativity. That impasse led to Love’s amicable departure from the band: He’ll play the back-catalog shows in the UK in October and November, and then turn in his Fanclub membership.
McGinley and Blake have nothing but praise for their bandmate; they’ll miss his contributions, but they’re more excited than ever to make songs together—including, sooner than later, brand-new ones. “The three of us have spread the burden of songwriting over the years, so there will be a bit more work involved creatively,” says Blake. “We don’t feel pressure to get somebody in as a songwriter to replace Gerry. Whatever happens, I know that we’ll create something that we’ll be happy to put our name behind.”
The Love Language
You may not be able to see the gorgeous landscapes behind Baby Grand, Stuart McLamb’s fourth record as The Love Language, but they’re so essential to the picture you’ll feel them in every note. Started in, of all places, a cavernous Virginia hammock factory, fragmentary demos came alive when splashed by sunshine during a move across the country to California, where the album was completed. “It was something just about being in a new city, and a new light,” McLamb says, “and reopening the sessions, and this demo that I thought was a throwaway, suddenly I’m really feeling it....” You can hear the freedom kick in when the backwoods country shuffle of “Castle in the Sky” explodes into a full-on aughts anthem, equal parts outstretched arms and pumped fists.
Yet so much lies in the shadows behind these tracks: other states, other lives, other dreams, other relationships—fogged over, perhaps, but there nonetheless. Yes, Baby Grand has its share of breakup songs—nobody writes those better than McLamb—but this time, even as something is being mourned, something else is being worked through; as lovers have been left behind, so have places and a time in life. Listen as the heartbreak and yearning of “New Amsterdam” come crashing down into the beautiful stasis of “Southern Doldrums” (the former was inspired by Cyndi Lauper and Joy Division, McLamb claims, while the latter draws upon John Cale’s meditative solo records), or as the beautiful lift of the startling sequence of songs that make up Baby Grand’s propulsive midsection gives way to a moody instrumental called “Rain/Delay,” a collection of distant plinks and plonks struggling to assemble themselves into melody. “I’ve embraced the idea that getting murky is what the band is,” says McLamb of the various assemblies of players and the various genre influences that have fueled The Love Language at different points in time. “I love bands like the Ramones that have one thing that really works, and I love a good restaurant that serves one really good dish. But I get bored... I want this album to showcase different types of pop songwriting and structures.” The song “Juiceboxx” is what you’d get if Mick Jagger crooned his “Emotional Rescue” falsetto over a backing
track by the Style Council, and “Let Your Hair Down” impressively suggests what “Caroline, No” might have sounded like if only it had been written by George Michael.
But it’s the finale that sends Baby Grand into the stratosphere. With Raleigh in his rearview, McLamb dusts off the ’60s throwback sounds of The Love Language’s 2009 self-titled debut, which are all over the flat-out-perfect “Independence Day.” And somewhere around New Orleans, he resuscitates those irresistible singalong melodies from 2010’s Libraries on “Paraty,” the lovely paean to a South American town he never managed to visit. Maybe it’s Austin, or Phoenix, that finds him slipping into the sleek suit of ’80s synths that underlay 2013’s Ruby Red—“Shared Spaces” should be listened to on a boat while wearing a skinny tie and shoes without socks—but then the wide-open vista of the California desert opens up before him, sunny and flat and full of promise, and that’s “Glassy.” It’s gotta be close to the best thing McLamb has ever written, and it culminates this alternately ruminative and riotous record on, fittingly, a note of reflection: “We’ll be riding out this losing streak,” he sings, “and they say the tides are rising / It took a long time to get us where we can’t come back...” You can’t leave something behind without starting something new, and the inverse of that proposition is just as true: when you stand on the Pacific coast, squinting into the sunset, there’s an entire country at your back, unseen but ever-present, and it stays with you forever.
There was something sinister about Crooked Fingers,
both the name of the project and the music that
Eric Bachmann wrote at the helm of its ever-shifting
lineups over 15 years. He retired the moniker a couple
of years ago, but with his third album under his own
name, the transformation feels gorgeous and final and
irreversible: No Recover.
The drunken louts and red devil dawns are a thing of
the past now, monuments to a different time. Bachmann,
husband and recent father, has some new lenses through
which to view the world. But while No Recover is
decidedly mellow and reflective, do not mistake it for
the work of a relaxed, satisfied songwriter, sitting on
some Georgia porch with a stalk of wheat between his
lips, gently rocking a cradle with his foot and whistling
an old tune.
No, the Eric Bachmann of 2018 seems to view life with a
sort of disgruntled maturity and righteous resignation.
No Recover is both harrowing and beautiful, and its
mellowness can be deceiving. The album is mostly just
him, a classical guitar, some treated rhythm tracks,
and otherworldly drop-ins from singer Avery Leigh
Draut and guitarist Eric Johnson, Bachmann’s old pal
from their Archers of Loaf days. He’s got a lot on his
mind, only some of it pretty.
The sunset on the album’s cover might be the end of a
cruel world for the duo in “Jaded Lover, Shady Drifter,” who introduce No Recover; they feel like flip-side lovers,
both sonically and lyrically, of the couple at the center of
Bring On the Snakes’ “The Rotting Strip.” But that dark
sentiment is quickly reversed with “Daylight,” one of
Bachmann’s most stunning vocal performances ever: For
a guy who earned his stripes by shredding his vocal cords
in the ’90s, he sure can croon. And though the words
cast some shadows—“fight for your life,” he implores—
ultimately there is hope. “If you try, you can be loved.”
Same goes, to a less direct degree, for “Waylaid,” the
record’s jauntiest song, and a meditation on failure
and love that leaves room for Johnson’s bright- but mournful electric guitar to take center stage. But leave
it to Bachmann to save the best for last: No Recover
ends with one song for his wife and another for his
son. “Wild Azalea,” for Liz Durrett—who also makes
a brief appearance earlier in the album—is pure ’70s
AM gold, including the tinge of sadness that the best of
that era embraced. And “Dead and Gone” offers wistful,
Bachmann-style comfort to a child. It’s vulnerable and
giving, a lifetime promise that somehow intertwines
regret and hopefulness.
In that way, it perfectly encapsulates No Recover—and
Bachmann himself—circa 2018. He’s got a lifetime
of experience behind him, and a catalog that runs the
gamut from fiery to scary to simply beautiful, sometimes
all at once. But it also feels like a new beginning. Here’s
to another 25 (or more!) years of watching him grow.