Teenage Fanclub, Bandwagonesque (1991)

Late 1991... I'd graduated law school, moved to San Francisco, gotten married, started working at a large law firm, and was just kinda wondering if my new grown-up life meant the end of those days where my life seemed to revolve around the joy of discovering new music.

And then Bandwagonesque came out.

And I was delighted to discover I had not outgrown the thrill I got out of stumbling across great new music.

Strictly speaking, Teenage Fanclub were not offering anything revolutionary -- the album was largely Big Star-infused power pop and balladry, played through a post-Jesus and Mary Chain sheet of distortion.  But the music was just so joyous and infectious that it instantly revived my hope in the future of indie rock, and to this day is one of those albums I can play and instantly elevate my mood.

The opening track, the well-titled "The Concept," opens with a squall of feedback, but any fears that this is going to be some challenging post-punk noise-fest dissipate as soon as the vocals kick in, a tangle of enchanting hooks, joined by the band's signature harmonies, and after a quick couple minutes spills into a lengthy McCartneyesque aaaah aaaah harmonic coda with a wailing guitar jam.

For some reason this is followed by 90 seconds of noise straight out of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music called simply "Satan" -- perhaps the band trying to scare away any casual browsers?  But after that, it's just non-stop great songs.

You've got the gorgeous, simple ballad "December," perhaps the most blatantly Big Star-ish tune on the album; the even simpler power pop rave-up "What You Do To Me," a Cheap Trick hook that doesn't really go anywhere but is still fun; and album highlight "Star Sign," which, after a long sonic buildup, eases into one of the band's finest pop songs ever.

I remember when Spin Magazine picked this album over Nirvana's Nevermind as 1991's album of the year, to much outcry, but in the 28 years since, only one of those albums has gotten a ton of play on my stereo.  Sorry, Kurt.

Later Teenage Fanclub albums gradually eased off the distortion, going in a more pure harmonic indie pop direction, with almost every album offering a few timeless tracks (my favorite being "Sparky's Dream" off 1995's Grand Prix), but Bandwagonesque was the one that really kicked off the decade for me.

Here's the "Star Sign" video:
...and "December":

Interestingly, Death Cab For Cutie's Ben Gibbard recently recorded a note-for-note remake of the album; nothing terribly groundbreaking, but for Death Cab fans, it's a great way to hear a wonderful album joined with Gibbard's vocals:

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