TFC have always traded on soul-searching lyrics, which despite their honesty, usually have a very recuperative effect on this listener.
This album is a real grower. A conclusion which, in itself, shouldn't be all that surprising as I've always found their albums to be ones that take a few listens to appreciate.
Man Made is their most laid back LP to my mind, though in true Fan Club fashion, it still highlights the strength of the song writing that has (despite musical fashions coming and going, both within and without the band) remained their trump card.
It's All In My Mind is suitably low key introduction. A quiet beginning, shorn of trademark jangly guitars, concentrating on Norman's softly sung vocals. TFC have always traded on soul-searching lyrics, which despite their honesty, usually have a very recuperative effect on this listener. They usually tell tales of endurance, forgiveness and fortitude; personal voyages of discovery which make the listener feel that it's good to talk and sort things out. Time Stops is a lovely flower of a song which blossoms out into the most beautiful chorus. The quiet break in the middle only serves to enhance the song's power. Following on, Nowhere is very reminiscent of Aztec Camera's early releases, but none the worse for that. Save is a lovely, blissed-out reminiscence, a walk in the park kicking up leaves, a good long stare out of a cafe window, a last wave out of the train window. It really is that lovely.
Just in case you felt that it was high time to cuddle up on the sofa, Slow Fade, a real fizzer of a track pulls you up sharpish; it's TFC in rawk mode, and, as such, harks back to one or two moments off Catholic Education. Only With You reverses this mood swing yet again, but, though softer in it's delivery, it is pretty hard to beat as a direct, no holds barred, heart-felt love song. The piano coda at the end is lovely and a perfect counterpoint. Cells continues this one-on one theme with a quiet introduction before opening up into a harmony-drenched number in the best TFC tradition. When the guitar storms in at the end, it feels like a celebration. Truly wonderful.
A more jaunty mood is heralded by Feel. The lyrics, however are anything but. It's the usual bitter-sweet observations expressed; "Life without you feels so cold/And moving round you makes me feel so old" followed by an invocation to "feel the sunshine". Fallen Leaves is one of the stand out track on the album, a lovely organ part gives a gentle fairground feel to the song before it breaks into a joyous celebratory chorus and a plea to "Come on over the future's here". The tailout guitar just reaffirms the happy mood.
A gentle strum heralds the best song on the LP; Flowing has that happy TFC knack of pulling very hard on all your heartstrings. The harpsichord part is so beautiful, I can't listen to it without welling up. Born Under A Good Sign is more of an understated rocker, it displays a very '60s very Velvetsy edge; there's a great guitar solo running through it that has wouldn't be out of place on a Byrds LP, I'd say. I also love the plinky plonky piano part that underpins the track. The last song, Don't Hide is set up as a personal message to all and sundry, telling the listener, in true Teenage Fan Club fashion, to trust your own judgement. Yet again it displays a classic pop song nous, nothing over-egged here; just simple, direct and very affecting.
Suffice to say I've really enjoyed writing this, not least because it was another excuse to listen to Man Made. I find it a more reflective album than some of their other releases and, as with all their output, the true beauty of their song writing skills are noticeable after about three or four listens. Still, that's no bad thing now is it?
Words: Richard Foster