It doesn’t matter how much time passes, Teenage Fanclub are still masters of the pop song. They still always find ways to inject pure sunshine into our veins when we need it the most, and their latest, Endless Arcade, is proof. For a band with more than three decades of music-making behind them, they miraculously haven’t tired of exploring the silver linings, making the rainclouds prettier. Recorded mainly in Hamburg in between bouts of touring, Endless Arcade was nearly finished ahead of lockdown in early 2020, but it speaks to the collective hope for brighter days in a way that is so prescient and uplifting, it undoubtedly belongs in 2021 as we inch our way out of the darkness and back into the light.
As a group of instrumentalists that have been learning each other and playing together for so long, Teenage Fanclub has such an ease with melody. They’re tuned into all the little intricacies that make for solid earworms, like Norman Blake’s gentle touch with harmonies and Euros Childs’ breezy keys. Elements like these elevate Endless Arcade’s driving, guitar-centric arrangements to a light, airy space. Guitar licks turn to gold in the hands of Raymond McGinley and Blake, the two primary songwriters for Endless Arcade, who both had mortality on the brain when penning these tunes. We hear that theme most in the title track. “Don’t be afraid of this life,” it goes. “Don’t be afraid / Of the truth you mislaid / Of the dreams you delayed / Of the price that you paid / Of the love you displayed.” And on the dreamy, gilded “Everything Is Falling Apart,” they want us to keep on, even when things feel impossibly hopeless. “Relax, find love / Hold on to the hand of a friend / But hey, have fun / Cause everything is going to end,” they sing.
Other wisdom comes in hidden little nuggets. On “The Future” they tell us “slow down, take time to know what’s worth knowing / Walk out the front door and see what’s new; on “Silent Song” it’s “we only need to breathe.”
Mortality trickles in in more insidious ways on Endless Arcade, too. Grief and loss are evident on tracks like “Living With You,” in which a loved one haunts dreams; or on “Warm Embrace” in which sadness is all consuming, down to the very act of getting dressed; and on “Home” as the idea of things feeling normal again seems just out of reach. Tough and trying times may have inspired songs like these, but what Endless Arcade leaves us with is a sense that everything is cyclical. Good times will always come back around.