More than a year into the pandemic, here is an increasingly rare thing: an album entirely untouched by lockdown. Endless Arcade was recorded in Hamburg in 2019 and scheduled for release to tie in with a tour, which was postponed and eventually abandoned. The album was put off a couple of times, but now here it is, without the benefit of the usual supporting roadshow: the 11th studio album from Scotland’s foremost exponents of harmonic pop-rock.
Listening to Endless Arcade, or just scanning its song titles, one could be forgiven for thinking that this is pure pandemic pop: “Everything Is Falling Apart”, “The Sun Won’t Shine on Me”, “Back in the Day”. But the melancholy in which these songs are steeped comes from within — or, in the case of “Everything Is Falling Apart”, is literally universal: the track was inspired by the notion of entropy, the gradual, inevitable decay of the universe. Themes don’t get much bigger.
Teenage Fanclub have been around for more than 30 years, and although in 2018 their line-up suffered the departure of founding member Gerard Love, their sound remains essentially the same (notwithstanding their early, noisier releases): mid-tempo, guitar-driven (though never heavy), with vocal harmonies that bring to mind The Everly Brothers or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, all served with a substantial helping of Scots drollery. There’s also a new member, Euros Childs, who joins from the Welsh psych-folk band Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, a relative whippersnapper in his mid-forties. He plays keyboards and contributes backing vocals, his high-register voice an immaculate fit for the band’s close harmonies.
Though their band name will be forever young, Teenage Fanclub have now hit middle age, and Endless Arcade reflects this: while there has always been a wistful streak in the band’s music, their melancholia is now more pronounced: this is music written by people with male-pattern baldness, reading glasses, troubled relationships and a creeping sense of mortality.
The opening track, “Home”, sets the mood — a meandering, drifting thing written and sung by Norman Blake about the sense of disaffected rootlessness that comes from never really being able to go “home” — though this is conveyed as much through its fluid guitar solos as by its actual lyrics; in the end, the guitars take over the song, so that it resembles something by a very laid-back Neil Young, or the great unsung Liverpool band Shack.
Following Love’s departure, songwriting and lead-singing duties are shared equally between Blake and Raymond McGinley, and they both seem to be going through something: the title track is like a polite version of Dylan Thomas’s “Rage, rage against the dying of the light”: “Don’t be afraid of this endless arcade that is life,” sings McGinley, gently but firmly. Blake darkens the mood with the aforementioned “Sun” song: “With a troubled mind I am in decline, and the sun won’t shine on me.”
The sentiments throughout are simple but heartfelt, and elegantly expressed: “I didn’t find religion, I never needed to; I’m more inclined to put my faith in you” (“I’m More Inclined”). Melodies are sweet and almost instantly memorable; many tracks, especially “Warm Embrace” (a strong Sixties vibe, like early The Who) and “Living With You”, quickly come to seem like old friends. Though it has its dark moments, this is an album that provides warmth and comfort, those harmonies and melodies a reassuring constant in strange times.
‘Endless Arcade’ is released by PeMa
This article has been amended since original publication to correct that the album was recorded in Hamburg