Freedom. Horrible, horrible freedom. Cloistered in the depths of Creation’s roster since 1991, he untidy collapse of Alan McGee’s great musical looked like Teenage Fanclub’s apocalypse. Indulged to explore their uncommercial whimes for so many years, the proto-Travis ravens were left flapping their wings nervously around the wreckage of their Tower of London. As they sing on ‘Dumb Dumb Dumb’: [I]”Take me back to what I know because I don?t know where to go”[/I].
If you were keen to reduce the drolly titled ‘Howdy!’ to one tellingly loaded phrase, then that’s probably it. It begins with a typically taut statement of low-key terror, ‘I Need Direction’, and in customary Teenage Fanclub style leads you down a dark alley of despair before suddenly bringing you out into the blinding metaphorical sunlight of another new dawn. Really, you’d have thought even the most credulous listener would have got used to that old chestnut by now.
Not so, though. You never do. ‘Howdy!’ demonstrates that Teenage Fanclub have attained such an imperious mastery of their one musical trick – Beach Boys, Big Star, Beatles, Bacharach, Byrds, Badfinger and Band imitated, assimilated and expanded – that you can’t even be bothered to get annoyed with them anymore. The liberated sound of ‘Howdy!’ shows that, in the moments of self-doubt that followed their untimely wake-up call, they’ve been out and seen the world, but like the bit where they started off best. There are plenty of moments of Fanclub genius – the triumphant ‘The Town And the City’, the majestic ‘Straight And Narrow’ and the cathartic voyage of ‘My Uptight Life’.
They leave quietly. ‘If I Never See You Again’ is a delicate piece of deadpan acoustic brilliance. It sounds like the big farewell but of course it’s not. [I]”We’ve only got a lifetime,” [/I] trills Norman Blake barely supressing a sly smile. The beauty of going nowhere is that you’ve got all the time in the world to get there. And of course, once you’ve made it, you can just sit back and relax.