Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard really loves Teenage Fanclub's 1991 album Bandwagonesque. He loves it so much that he re-recorded the album himself, in its entirety. And who can blame him? A landmark grunge-era rock album, influenced by the romantic power pop melodicism of Big Star and the harmony-driven sound of the Byrds, yet filtered through the band's shoot-from-the-hip guitar sparkle and fuzz, Bandwagonesque remains pretty magical. It was a breakthrough for the Scottish outfit that introduced the group to American audiences with heavy rotation on college rock radio and MTV's 120 Minutes. Spin named it 1991's Album of the Year and Oasis' famously opinionated lead singer Liam Gallagher even deemed TFC, somewhat cheekily, the "second best band in the world" (behind his, of course). Needless to say, for an indie rock band from a suburb of Glasgow, the album outperformed expectations, leaving its mark on the pop landscape and influencing artists to come -- like Gibbard.
The best songs on Gibbard's tribute illuminate something new or codify what was essentially great about the original. Sometimes he even manages to do both, while essentially offering up slavishly executed re-creations of the original tracks. Beyond the nuance of their not dissimilar vocal styles, the difference between TFC's and Gibbard's album lies in the Death Cab singer's predilection toward a softer, twee production style. In 1991, TFC sounded like a band who might record in a basement. Gibbard, on the other hand, is a dyed-in-flannel bedroom auteur; his closely miked voice practically bounces off his jeans, vinyl LPs, and quilted comforter. Which isn't to say that he doesn't rock out. In fact, one gets the sense that under TFC's Fender-toned influence, Gibbard pushed himself to match their outsized grunge grandeur; he even includes the band's wry 56-second faux-heavy metal jam "Satan." He also expands songs in subtle ways, pumping up the already epic outro of "The Concept," lengthening the song from six minutes to eight. Similarly, he takes his time with the chimera-like, dream pop closer "Is This Music?" Always a bit of an anomaly on the original album, the drum machine- and flanger-soaked instrumental felt like a holdover from the band's younger days, a knowing homage to the new wave romanticism of band's like the Cure and Cocteau Twins. Here, Gibbard underlines that notion, dropping the distorted bass of the original, and focusing on the jangly, swooning guitar leads.
Primarily, though, he delivers lovingly attenuated renditions of each song, paying particular attention to capturing the emotive, anthemic nature of songs like the rollicking glitter-stomp of "What You Do to Me," the hyper-drive folk-rock of "Star Sign," and the yearning Big Star "ahhhs" of "Alcoholiday." In the decades since they punctured the cultural zeitgeist of 1991 with Bandwagonesque, the three singer/songwriters who make up the core of Teenage Fanclub -- Norman Blake, Gerard Love, and Raymond McGinley -- have had varying degrees of commercial success, yet remain beloved pop journeymen with a deeply loyal fan base. Based on the warmth and attention to detail with which this new version of Bandwagonesque has been recorded, we can surely count Gibbard among them.