Teenage Fanclub, Bandwagonesque (DGC Records)

Already getting hyped as the alternative pop band of the 90s, racking up Best Album of the Year awards, riding at the top of the college charts, and appearing on Saturday Night Live, Scottish band Teenage Fanclub seems to be the hot band of the moment. Strange, when their music is decidedly retro. Not as blatantly slavish about it as, say, Lenny Kravitz, the band uses ’90s distortion and feedback to slyly update classic pop songs, specifically that of Big Star. This was (one-time New Orleanian) Alex Chilton’s early 1970s band, which in turn was heavily influenced by the Beatles. Granted, Bandwagonesque is a wonderful album, full of great melodies, clever lyrics, sweet harmonies, and crunchy guitar. But it sounds so much like Big Star, it sort of pisses me off. Is this bad? It seems somewhat perverse that this band is successful, when Big Star’s albums faded into obscurity immediately upon release. Although Big Star had no commercial success, they were a seminal rock act that influenced probably as many musicians as the Velvet Underground. As Replacement Paul Westerberg put it in his song “Alex Chilton”: “I never travel far/Without a little Big Star.” But, I do recommend Teenage Fanclub’s album heartily, not only because it is such pleasant listening, but that it might make someone seek out Big Star’s superior three albums (the first two appear on one disc and both can be ordered through CD catalogs). They sound timeless, not at all dated. Hmmm. I’m now asking myself whether this is a review of Teenage Fanclub or Big Star. Some critics say that everything’s been done before, and that nothing is original in rock ‘n’ roll anymore, but Teenage Fanclub proves you can steal from the greats and still make fine music. Although the thought of the theft is unpleasant, if the band’s success leads people back to the act that the band is emulating (such as when the Blues Brothers turned on a young white generation to the Chicago blues, and revitalized the careers of many forgotten greats in the process), they’re actually doing the original artists a great service, and what’s so bad about that?