The Cosmics topple the Fannies as the crafty kings of jangly guitar pop

Teenage Fanclub | Astoria, London Cosmic Rough Riders | Monarch, Camden
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The Independent Culture

Do you think there's a clique of Californian rock bands whose every song is inspired by Harry Lauder and the Ayrshire Fiddle Orchestra? No, me neither. The west of the USA doesn't show many signs of being influenced by the west of Scotland, but in the other direction it's another matter. Whatever the differences between Bellshill and Beverly Hills, it seems more or less compulsory for Strathclyde's guitar groups to imitate the Byrds, the Beach Boys and Buffalo Springfield.

Do you think there's a clique of Californian rock bands whose every song is inspired by Harry Lauder and the Ayrshire Fiddle Orchestra? No, me neither. The west of the USA doesn't show many signs of being influenced by the west of Scotland, but in the other direction it's another matter. Whatever the differences between Bellshill and Beverly Hills, it seems more or less compulsory for Strathclyde's guitar groups to imitate the Byrds, the Beach Boys and Buffalo Springfield.

The acknowledged leaders in the field are the Glasgow-based Teenage Fanclub. Throughout the 1990s they moped about life and girls while playing sunny, jangly guitar-pop with sweet vocal harmonies. And, to summarise the rest of this review, that's exactly what they're still doing. The first single from their new album, Howdy!, was called "I Need Direction", but they've been heading in the same direction for a decade.

No one can accuse them of abandoning their roots. On Wednesday, the Fannies (as they're known) played some very pretty songs, but they were all very pretty in a similar sort of way, and they all went at a similar sort of pace. The band members are almost as congruous as their tunes. Only Finlay McDonald, with his Cavern Club drum rolls, had a musical style that you could pick out of a line-up. The other three - joined by an extra keyboardist/guitarist on Thursday - took it in turns to sing lead vocals, and they all had the dress sense and body language of men who would rather be ignored. The greying, sweatshirt-clad Raymond McGinley won the prize for being most daddish, and Norman Blake, with his 360-degree fringe, came in third, but it was a close thing. Cocktail pianists in hotel lounges have made more effort to get people to shut up and listen.

This self-effacement extends to their lyrics, which are rarely about extreme anguish or extreme joy, but, to quote one of their song titles, a vague "Mellow Doubt" that's somewhere in-between. The laureates of indecision, Teenage Fanclub not only begin Howdy! with "I Need Direction", but they follow it with "I Can't Find My Way Home". This is one reason why their record sales have never matched their reviews. But it's also a reason why their fans have such affection for the band. Teenage Fanclub are so beloved because they are so normal, modest, gentle and reliable, and one of their most reliable qualities is their lack of mainstream stardom. They are currently suffering the indignity of being marketed by their record company as Travis's forefathers, but their performance on Wednesday was that of a group who were content to bob along as a well-kept secret. That's probably what they'll be doing 10 years from now.

Teenage Fanclub were mainstays of Creation records before the company closed this year. Its boss, Alan McGee, founded a new label, Poptones, because he wanted to start afresh, so it's ironic that Poptones' most warmly received signing thus far has been the Cosmic Rough Riders - a Glaswegian band who play sunny, jangly guitar-pop with sweet vocal harmonies. On Tuesday, when the group played upstairs at the Monarch pub in Camden, north London, Daniel Wylie felt he had to clear up any doubts about their provenance with his first remark to the audience: "Notice that's a Scottish accent," he said, "not an American accent."

There was no need. The album the Cosmic Rough Riders released on Monday, Enjoy The Melodic Sunshine, is in considerable debt to the Byrds, the Beach Boys and Buffalo Springfield, but it also experiments with Eastern scales and time signatures, and some of the tracks have a rural psychedelic tinge redolent of XTC. Besides, there's a craftiness to the gorgeous tunes, a breadth to the arrangements and a wry character to the lyrics that are all their own. When Wylie smudges the language of love with the dirt of real life in the line, "You're a perfume, grows in summer when my allergies are strong", you can tell he's a songwriter worth watching.

He has none of Teenage Fanclub's shyness, either. As big in personality as he is pint-sized in stature, Wylie starts the show leaning towards a photographer and staring into his camera for a verse, and he finishes it mooching through the audience shaking hands with the punters. In-between times, he rocks from foot to foot, points at people he recognises and prowls around the stage, egging on his bandmates with a raised thumb and a slap on the shoulder. The other Cosmics (well, it's a better nickname than the Fannies) respond by stacking their vocal lines on to his and making towering shapes that most Beach Boys-wannabes can only dream of building. This band doesn't need direction.

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