Lightships is the name given to the solo project of Teenage Fanclub bassist and songwriter Gerard Love. The fact that he has chosen to assign a band name to this project in many ways is indicative of his reserved, quiet nature, preferring to allow the music to stand up and be evaluated on its own merits, unsupported by any peripheral detail such as his personal musical background. It has come at an appropriate moment, just as the band in which he has assumed a pivotal role in for over 20 years is going through one of their periodic lulls in activity. Last year saw fellow band-member Norman Blake join forces with Euros Childs to release an album as Jonny, but Electric Cables is a far more polished, consistent offering.
The album has been something of a keenly anticipated affair since it was first mooted several years ago. His songs recorded as part of Teenage Fanclub have always exhibited an exquisite appreciation of melody and an elevated sense of harmony. Norman Blake may be both the unofficial frontman of the group and the songwriter that most immediately associate with the band, but Love has comfortably been his equal over the years. He may occupy a place in the background but in their later period he has arguably been responsible for two of their biggest ‘hits’ in Sparky’s Dream and Ain’t That Enough.
Musically, Electric Cables is everything you would expect a Gerard Love solo record to be – mellifluent, euphonious and perfectly-framed. It may be closer to the songs he has penned for later Teenage Fanclub records as opposed to the aforementioned gold-plated classics but what stands out is how natural, honest and self-aware a release it sounds. With the help of the likes of former associates Brendan O’Hare, Dave McGowan and Jim McCulloch he’s managed to capture and project the essence of his sound as successfully as any long-term fan could have hoped.
It’s also an album that radiates warmth and sincerity and it doesn’t seem an overstatement to say it feels like a kind of musical heralding of the season of spring. Muddy Rivers possesses a contented melody that bounces along merrily in the background, whilst forthcoming single Sweetness In Her Spark has a bountiful supply of chirruping guitars, all sprayed by a dewy-freshness. Love’s songs with Teenage Fanclub often extol the simple virtues of nature, environment and weather and these themes are clearly detectable here also.
There are some discreet differences to his earlier output, however. The harmonies are not as firmly in the foreground as usual and the occasional use of flute and clarinet cast an airy lightness over the more familiar guitar-derived sounds. This happens most noticeably on The Warmth Of The Sun and Photosynthesis, both of which serve as sort of pensive interludes. Yet, the highlights truly arrive once the guitars and drums are turned up and afforded greater definition. Silver And Gold sees buzzsaw guitars kick in alongside fragile vocals to elicit a giddy, power-pop high whilst Stretching Out ends with an insistent, repeated guitar riff.
It’s a joyful, undeniably positive album but more significantly Electric Cables has the potential to grow into one of those cult records that may not make a sizeable impact on the musical landscape but becomes cherished by a devoted group of listeners.