Teenage Fanclub Grand Prix
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For all of the brilliance of records like Bandwagonesque and the underrated Thirteen, at times Teenage Fanclub seemed little more than a showcase for the laconic melodic genius of Norman Blake -- fairly or not, the songwriting contributions of bandmates Gerard Love and Raymond McGinley suffered mightily by comparison, mere filler when stacked alongside Blake-penned marvels like "The Concept" and "Norman 3." That said, the superb Grand Prix is perhaps the truest group effort in the Fannies' catalog -- more than ever before, their democratic approach truly bears fruit, and it's indicative of the disc's uniform excellence that the first Blake composition, the lovely "Mellow Doubt," doesn't even surface until track three, by which time McGinley's "About You" and Love's harmony-rich "Sparky's Dream" have already firmly established the set's ragged-but-right tenor. While new drummer Paul Quinn fails to recreate the buoyantly reckless abandon of the sacked Brendan O'Hare, Grand Prix otherwise captures complete creative synergy -- in particular, "Don't Look Back" is Love's watershed moment, a gorgeously wistful love song highlighted by wittily lovelorn lyrics like "I'd steal a car to drive you home," as good a pick-up line as anything in the annals of rock & roll. Not everything works (McGinley's "Verisimilitude" goes nowhere fast) and Blake's contributions are still the highlights ("Neil Jung" and "I'll Make It Clear" are simply perfect pop songs), but Grand Prix is ultimately the product of a band at the peak of its collective powers, not as much a landmark as Bandwagonesque but every bit as good on its own terms.