by Belle Waring on August 8, 2017

Death Cab For Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard released a kind of weird yet good? new album. “Oho so what!” you say. “I’ve always been meh on Death Cab For Cutie, Belle Waring, I’ll have you know.” I wish you would let me finish what I’m saying, ever! I agree. Anyway, it’s a song for song cover of Teenage Fanclub’s 1991 Bandwagonesque. This is cool as a concept album theme, and I have a soft spot for concept albums. Also, Bandwagonesque is a sublime album whose Big Star greatness was lost in the decade’s welter of grunge, so, why not cover it in its entirety? Gibbard put it this way to NPR:

“Bandwagonesque is my favorite record by my favorite band of all time,” Gibbard writes via email. “It came along at a pivotal time in my musical life, and I’ve loved it for over 25 years. It’s been such a blast taking these songs apart to see how they work and then putting them back together again.”

This is worthy-sounding but the weird thing is that he put them back together just the way they were put together in the first place. I mean, maybe there should have been new dovetail joints, or different instruments, or that part at the end of “What You Do To Me” where it fades out seconds before the end and then comes back could have been altered fractionally? The song which is changed the most is the opener “The Concept”, which he extended and made more shimmery and it is indeed a legit good cover.

However I am in a strange state of aesthetic suspension about the rest of the cover album. Is it good? I have listened to it more than once, which is a positive sign, but its main virtue was in making me listen to the actual album more? I haven’t really listened to it in ages BUT WHY NOT?!?? Now, it could be that I have deep-seated psychological problems and that’s why. Or that I have deep-seated psychological problems unrelated to my failure to listen to an album I really love for ages. That’s more likely actually. My psychiatrist would probably agree with that latter thing. ANYHOO. In short, the cover album is way too by-the-numbers, but the songs are so amazing, and his voice so well-suited to the harmonies that by some conservation of good music principle it is also good, I guess? (John likes it more than I, I think.) Additionally the production quality is a bit higher, so perhaps what I really want is a beautiful re-master.

I tried to explain/debate this problem with my brother in law but he has always been meh on Death Cab For Cutie and actually had never heard of Teenage Fanclub. So I asked him if he loved Big Star and he was fractionally slow in responding with some word that by the high questioning pitch audible just as he began aspirating was clearly going to be “well” or something like that so I said “nonononononononono. Nononononono.” You know, like a normal person would. He doesn’t love Big Star. That’s OK! Some people have a tiny chunk missing from their soul that–no, not that either; I guess some noble lovable folk just don’t love Big Star and I have to laboriously reconstruct my worldview now to accommodate this ill-shaped fact.

He actually attributed it to a well-known problem of not having listened to them as a young enough person to become truly obsessed ever. It’s not that he doesn’t ever like new music, he just doesn’t then sit there and listen to it endlessly on repeat, memorizing the lyrics, and crying slightly to himself. But nothing prevents you from doing this so I recommend it highly! Well, you don’t need to cry quietly to yourself–what if you aren’t emo like me the album is a real barn-burner after all? It’s true that there will probably never be music as emotionally important to you as music you listened to when you were 16 or 20 or whatever…but only probably. It varies from person to person. I recommend having various shattering emotional crises at different ages so the music you listened to obsessively then can pierce your heart with simultaneous love of music and hangover sadness at the same time! Wait, I’m not sure I do so unreservedly, but it does work. The real moral of the story here is that you should listen to Tennage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque; Jesus it’s so good. And hey, the other is good too?

What about you guys? Do you have music you first heard when you were 35 that you love deeply? 55? Do you love Big Star as is right and proper? Should I go back and listen to Death Cab For Cutie; it’s not like I didn’t have some songs I liked when they first came out? Did my new favorite album come out ten minutes ago and you have to tell me about it now? What’s the score?



dfan 08.08.17 at 5:26 pm

I listen to a lot of music and I didn’t discover my favorite band (Cardiacs) until I was over 40. My new-love rate has definitely slowed down over time, though.

I do love Big Star as is right and proper.

Gibbard’s project reminds me of the Mostly Other People Do the Killing record a few years back where they attempted to recreate Kind of Blue as precisely as possible, Pierre-Menard-style. Good for them, I guess?


JakeB 08.08.17 at 6:02 pm

Well, I remembered Al Stewart’s two monster hits vaguely as boring songs from when I was a kid/tween. Then about 8 or 9 years ago, a friend happened to play _Year of the Cat_ when I was visiting her and I fell in love with his music, to the degree I own 15 (?) of his albums, including ordering a couple at preposterous prices from halfway around the world, and once driving 300 miles in slush and rain to see a concert of his. I’d say there are maybe a solid 5 or 6 of his songs on my “mixtape that is the last thing you listen to before you die*”.

* assuming you have the opportunity to choose the tunes in such circumstances, of course.


James Grimmer 08.08.17 at 6:34 pm

There is something deeply personal about musical taste. It’s second to sharing your poetry or the fact you are in love with someone. I was in a band once and threw up before every show. So: here is a band I discovered, an indie pop band, just a few years before turning fifty. I think they are great. I’d heard them before (because I loved their influences and they were highly licensed). Here’s a great late 1990’s song of theirs:

They have a high yield of great pop song per song, if you’re into ratios like those.


TheSophist 08.08.17 at 6:57 pm

Mogwai. I had never heard any of their music until I was maybe 48, and over the last five or so years I have listened to them so, so much. (They have the best song titles – George Square Thatcher Death Party is one offering.)

I suspect that liking Mogwai is like eating liver – the only two reactions are “OMG that’s amazing” or “yecch- why does anybody like that?”


alex 08.08.17 at 7:10 pm

Gibbard also replicated a 1992 Fanclub 7″ that had two covers…including an Alex Chilton song.


OldJim 08.08.17 at 8:15 pm

Pierre Menard told me he tried listening to this stuff but found it too derivative


Henry 08.08.17 at 8:31 pm

My friend Barb (who you would like) once went into a random bar with her then-boyfriend (somewhere West Coast I think but don’t make me swear on it) to start drinking, only to find Alex Chilton, playing for change more or less. And then spent the rest of the day listening. And drinking with him. I’m still jealous.


William Timberman 08.08.17 at 9:37 pm

On Teengage Fanclub: If these guys had taken the stage at the Whisky in 1966, I bet less than 10% of the audience would have pegged them as time travelers. The Byrds filtered through the mesh of a darker cultural sensibility, if you like. A Glaswegian West Coast band? Weird to think so, I suppose, but as a time traveler from the opposite direction, I swear it must be true.


rea 08.08.17 at 9:59 pm

Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes ’round
They sing “I’m in love. What’s that song? I’m in love with that song.”
I never travel far, without a little Big Star


Helen 08.08.17 at 11:06 pm

A singer/songwriter friend of mine started to record a song-for-song cover of Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are a-Changin’ album. Unlike Gibbard, however, she completely reworked each song. It was planned for release in 2014, the 50th anniversary of the original album. Unfortunately that project didn’t get up.


Yan 08.09.17 at 12:33 am

Did Westerberg ever say which Big Star song the children are in love with? I vote for “Thirteen.”


James Grimmer 08.09.17 at 5:17 am

Alex Chilton I didn’t discover until I was 38. “What’s Your Sing, Girl”


Neville Morley 08.09.17 at 5:47 am

In my case, two things have made a difference. Firstly, taking a break; in my late twenties I get completely jaded with contemporary rock and pop, most of which sounded like weak cover versions of stuff from the past, and so spent the next ten years mostly exploring modern jazz. Then I stumbled across Mogwai and was hooked; their music means as much to me as any of the groups from my youth – songs like Mogwai Fear Satan or I Chose Horses fill me with emotion despite (a) not having lyrics and (b) not having intelligible lyrics.

That was the gateway to listening to loads of new stuff every since,partly because I felt refreshed and partly because the music seemed to have got better in my absence. Plus, the Internet: possible to get hold of things from obscure labels I’d never have heard of, on basis of recommendations from blogs I’d learnt to trust – so, Kauan, Russian doom metal / post-rock group – and possible to listen to things to decide whether it’s worth buying the record, whereas in the past I wouldn’t have taken the gamble – hence Fever Ray, Lorde’s first album, Flying Lotus…

Given a straight choice, I’d take Big Star over Teenage Fanclub any day. But my love goes to another Chilton-influenced group, the Bangles.


Emma in Sydney 08.09.17 at 7:16 am

I found these estimable young women earlier this year and I can’t imagine ever not loving their music. Listen to the whole album. They are touring North America at the moment.


Emma in Sydney 08.09.17 at 7:17 am

Dammit. Coding on a phone on the train …


Paul O 08.09.17 at 10:59 am

What about you guys? Do you have music you first heard when you were 35 that you love deeply? 55?.

Goodness yes. I had only just discovered techno when I was 35. I don’t listen to much music these days but still get deep pleasure from Richie Hawtin’s and Orbital’s early work.

Found a lot of jazz in my 30s (mostly be-bop) which I still like in the background on Sundays.

Big Star, never heard them (really!). Might give it a try but ‘pop’ has never been my thing (ducks).


Ignatz 08.09.17 at 11:27 am

I don’t get a lot of emotion out of the music I listened to when I was 16, because I had bad taste back then, and because all the emotion has been wrung out of it over 25 years. The good bands and the good songs from all the mediocre bands still hold up and still shuffle into the deck but good grief the late eighties were a cultural wasteland, or at least they were round my way. New Model Army still puts the hairs up on the back of my neck, but mostly because that was the soundtrack to my first proper necking session in a German basement. And I guess various things – the Wolfsbane EP All Hell Is Breaking Loose at Little Kathy Wilson’s Place for example – take me back to wandering the suburban backstreets of a Northern town with headphones on, in the dark and the rain, streets deserted, cold, miserable and alone and as happy as hell. In fact the music I listen to now still makes me wish I was in the wet grass at the far end of Ancaster Rise by the park on a stormy night, where the fence was broken and the streetlight threw wild shadows into the rain from inside the branches of the big oak – the perfect spot for music appreciation in my opinion.

OK, I take it all back, I love all the old stuff.


One of Many 08.09.17 at 4:30 pm

I’d been devolving further and further into fortysomething neophobia until (I hate to admit) a streaming service reduced the cost in money and inconvenience (of listening to a whole album from someone new I’d seen mention of) from low to infinitesimal. Some faves from relatively recent acts are Julia Holter and Kurt Vile. I’m not exactly entering new territory genre-wise, but I feel like I could, any day now. As a bonus, streaming gets you to backfill yawning lacunae you’ve for decades been vaguely aware of, sometimes making you notice things you’d been blind to in old friends. E.g. finally got around to listening to Big Star’s Third and realised where a couple of This Mortal Coil tracks I’d liked as a teenager had come from. Another example: hearing Liege and Lief and (quite apart from being, not unexpectedly, blown away) only then getting quite what a pastiche the Decemberists’ The Hazards of Love was.


Emma in Sydney 08.09.17 at 11:16 pm

One of the nicest things about Paul Krugman’s NYT blog was his Friday musical posts, where he revealed himself to be a complete fanboy for a number of young bands.


Helen 08.10.17 at 12:21 am

In my case, two things have made a difference. Firstly, taking a break; in my late twenties I get completely jaded

Oh, hell yes. I had a “meh” period then rediscovered fandom in a big way.
Over the last decade I became a fanatical fan of this guy
And this guy

…which is odd, because I’ve never liked the one-guy-with-a-guitar format. (I do prefer them with backing bands, but I take them as they come – they tour out here but can’t afford all the bells and whistles on their recordings.)

I still love stuff I listened to when I was 16. I consider Can to have been one of the greatest bands of all time – I recently downloaded Tago Mago to re-acquaint. I’ve owned three copies of their second album at various times.


Bill Murray 08.10.17 at 1:37 am

Being 55, I do have music that I just discovered and love greatly

Martha — from Pity Me in Durham —

Colour Me Wednesday — from Uxbridge —

The Tuts — from Hayes —

Versus Shade Collapse — Colombian woman who emigrated to Los Angeles and was a substitute teacher —


CDT 08.10.17 at 2:32 am

Years ago I saw Alex Chilton walking into a Phoenix bar for a show and asked him how it felt to be a living legend. He said, I don’t know; old, I guess.

I don’t recall knowing Alejandro Escovedo’s music until I was 35 or so. Or Chuck Prophet, now likely my two favorite artists.


Icastico 08.10.17 at 2:54 am

Dfan: did not expect Cardiacs to show up in this discussion. I will throw Rock Central Plaza in for discussion. In 2006 they did a concept album about robot horses that is just fab.


James 08.10.17 at 6:15 am

Ok I’m gonna give Bandwagonesque another try after all these years. I remember liking Catholic Education a lot, but not so much B…

Yes, Big Star. The truth and the light.

As to new musical passions, they are fewer as time passes, but I stumbled across Broadcast maybe a year ago and they are (were) just wonderful.


Chris "merian" W. 08.10.17 at 8:11 am

Värttinä. Finnish band. Sing in Karelian. Wildly weirdly feminist. I think I first encountered them at age 40 or so. Love them at a deep deep level.

Buffy St. Marie is something else, too. And Tanya Tagaq came to my town sing in a concert, and it was incredible (including getting to talk and just hang out with her afterwards — and the audience was about 40% Alaska Native, and it was a really touching experience, like suspended in a parenthesis where all the outward crap, the reality of our lives and the difficulty of living together, or Trump’s win and all that we were fearing, didn’t matter).

(But I’m really bad with popular music. I basically skipped this crucial stage of aesthetic development and cultural group-membership bit all through my youth into my 20th.)


JakeB 08.10.17 at 4:07 pm

@Chris — I love Varttina too, especially ‘Kyla Vuotti Uutta Kuuta’ and ‘Matalii Ja Mustii’ from Seleniko. I saw Mari Kaasinen singing at a children’s festival in Helsinki some 20 years ago and was amazed that the stands weren’t bursting with people.


Belle Waring 08.10.17 at 5:04 pm

23: a concept album about robot horses?! Hmmm. Got to check that out.


mrearl 08.10.17 at 6:31 pm

Those Mae girls are rather estimable. Thanks.


Paul Davis 08.10.17 at 6:48 pm

I have discovered at least as much music between, say, 38 and 53 as I did between 18 and 38. Is that surprising? There was a brief moment in the early 2000s when it felt as if music was dead, and then showed up and I was off to the races again. Also, getting (re)married at 38 to a woman who liked to sing and who like singers was also a revelation of sorts.


Retaliated Donor 08.10.17 at 7:58 pm

Igatz @17 that was beautiful, thank you.


Jim Shapiro 08.10.17 at 8:06 pm

Showing up late, but:

Bands/records that emerged in 2000, when I was 35, that I love as much as basically anything: New Pornographers, Mass Romantic (though I would love the next few albums even more); Broadcast, The Noise Made by People

Bands/records that have appeared since then and are also on the very-very-favorites list: Charlotte Hatherley, Grey Will Fade (2004) and The Deep Blue (2007); Land of Talk, Applause Cheer Boo Hiss (2006) plus subsequent LPs; Hedvig Mollestad Trio, All of Them Witches (2013); St. Vincent, obviously; Tame Impala, obviously; a little ways behind these but not much are records by Besnard Lakes and Field Music

Related: In approx. 2008, at age 43, I became, I believe, the oldest person ever to start loving Yes; in the last year or so, Chris Squire’s 1975 solo album, Fish out of Water, has become the newest record to join my most-loved-records list—in addition to sounding a lot like Yes (Bill Bruford plays drums, for one thing), it’s also in spots a lot like the mid-70s Beach Boys if they’d been as good as I want them to be


Retaliated Donor 08.10.17 at 8:08 pm

Bill Murray, judging from your recommendations I thought you might like Los Campesinos!, check ’em out:


Dave Maier 08.11.17 at 1:26 am

+1 on Fish Out of Water, Värttinä, and The Year of the Cat.

Otherwise, I was going to say kind of what a couple people said about having left pop music behind a few decades ago, but I have to admit that I haven’t really come back yet.
I too discovered techno at 35, and of the music I still love from that time, 15 or 20 of those records are on Atom Heart’s Rather Interesting label. (Also Tetsu Inoue.)

I have heard of Big Star.


Joseph Brenner 08.11.17 at 1:27 am

Can’t say I’ve ever gotten “Big Star” myself, much as I wanted to, being a Replacements fan and all. Much like with those “Radiohead” fans, I fear this is one of those politely agree-to-disagree (and-whisper-behind-your-back) sort of things.

To my knowledge, Westerberg never explained why he decided to hyperbolize about Big Star’s popularity, and actually said something mildly nasty later, about how he was sorry he’d given Chilton a (re-) boost, after seeing what he did with it.


Joseph Brenner 08.11.17 at 2:04 am

“Do you have music you first heard when you were 35 that you love deeply? 55?”

Well, when I was in my mid-30s (in the mid-90s) I was doing a college radio show and obsessively researching different kinds of music, much of it new-at-the-time, much of it just new-to-me… Going through that particular trove would take quite some time. Just to pick a few:

Six Organs of Admittance (SF area, spacey-guitar oriented music):

Khanh Ly (A Vietnamese female vocalist with a long career going back to the fall of Saigon– this stuff always reminds me of French torch-singing):

Positive Knowledge (jazz poetry, centered on the Bay Area duo Ijeoma Thomas and Oluyemi Thomas):

Axiom of Choice (modern Persian music):

As for now, when I’m comfortably wedged in my 50s (and planning to stay for a few decades), I’m not really in music exploration-mode, though I do turn up some good stuff now and then…

Wednesday Campanella:


Fats Durston 08.11.17 at 12:36 pm

Bandwagonesque is a CD that was guaranteed to be in every record store’s trade-in bin.

I think Gibbard’s (Postal Service) “Such Great Heights” is one of the best love songs ever written.

I owned Big Star’s albums from my early twenties, liked Radio City but didn’t really appreciate #1 Record until I was forty, strangely.

If fans of power pop haven’t heard the Weakerthans’ “Plea from a Cat Named Virtute” they must, for their lives will be richer. That album also includes the tune “Our Retired Explorer (Dines with Michel Foucault in Paris, 1961).”


icastico 08.11.17 at 9:00 pm

27: I seen to have made a typo on my comment. It is Rock Plaza Central. The album is “Are We Not Horses”. It is “a song-cycle about artificial horses struggling with the question of their “horsiness,” about war and strife, and about love ”

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