Music

Bill Janovitz & Crown Victoria: Fireworks on TV!

Zeth Lundy

Bill Janovitz & Crown Victoria

Fireworks on TV!

Label: Q Division
US Release Date: 2004-09-07
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

It's been 10 years since Buffalo Tom made its bid for some semblance of mainstream notoriety with Big Red Letter Day. Sadly, the band never became a household name despite earning accolades as a masthead in the early '90s' modern rock movement. Buffalo Tom was an omnipresent constant in Boston, and regardless of what other bands would claim, was the unofficial representation of that city's sound. The band refined the slacker rock of Dinosaur Jr., had a knack for the Lemonheads' hooks, and kept a finger on the pulse of Boston's working class. For those who listened, Buffalo Tom was a deeply personal band that spread universal emotions over tight, livewire choruses. After an impressive run of six records over ten years, Buffalo Tom went on an indefinite hiatus; its uneven swan song (for now, at least), Smitten (1998), documented a tired band in search of a much-needed rest.

Buffalo Tom's lead singer/guitarist Bill Janovitz has since gone it alone, releasing two folksy and stripped-down solo records: 1997's Lonesome Billy and 2001's Up Here. While the records were an admirable departure from Buffalo Tom's muscular rock, neither put Janovitz under his strongest spotlight: the leader of a visceral rock combo.

Janovitz's new Fireworks on TV! is a long-awaited and welcome return to the husky rock of his past. Recorded a few years back during the final days of Fort Apache Studios (Boston's answer to Abbey Road) with backing band Crown Victoria (Phil Aiken on keyboards, Tom Polce on drums, Josh Lattanzi on bass), Fireworks on TV! is not so much a time capsule as it is a warming echo. The album's set of 15 songs recalls the glory days of Big Red Letter Day, but it never retreads them. Crown Victoria is a band cut from a distinctly different cloth, a little more loose and carefree than Buffalo Tom's airtight uniformity.

Fireworks on TV! opens with the methodical haze burn-off of "One, Two, Three", a song that blends the melodic sensibilities of Buffalo Tom with the darker recesses of the Twilight Singers. The song's story -- charting a woman's mysterious disappearance - easily speaks to the longing ache in Janovitz's graveled voice: "She probably drinks a glass of beer / A thousand miles away from here / Or maybe she is underneath the sea". Crown Victoria digs deep into the song's chorus (what could be referred to as the prototypical "Janovitz chorus") and harvests it from the roots.

Not surprisingly, Fireworks on TV!'s best songs are those that crackle and smolder with Janovitz's peerless energy. "Almost Beating", with its hammered-on strums, rollicking tempo, and tambourine trills, is an audible telegraph from Janovitz's salad days. "Sinking" and "Florida" are raging gems, schooled in an exasperating, unrelenting force. The propulsion of "Believe" is invigorating, the band running the impossibly infectious chorus ragged, dragging its simple refrain until entirely spent. "Revealed" is a volatile kiss-off, mixing its indignation in a thick, fiery rock stomp: "Instead you'll tear apart / The fragments of a diseased heart / And try to pick my brains a bit / But I won't give you the benefit". (Lattanazi's bass has this intriguing moment where it slides from an unexpected note to its intended note; at first it sounds like a mistake, but upon repetition is revealed as something more than that. It's quite cool to hear.)

The mood is softened a few times, most notably in the acoustic-based title track. Among the chorus' country harmonies and some sublime imagery ("Out in the halogen / I saw our story end"), Janovitz muses on representations of truth and perception: "All these things are ours to see / They're like fireworks on TV / They show reality / But not so vividly". The song is repeated in its electric, "basement" form as the album's closer, but it's much more effective as an acoustic strummer and offers a nice offset to its electrified companion tracks.

The album's minor flaw is its length; 15 songs at a little over an hour stretch good intentions a bit far. But that can't be harped on for too long, for such a large selection of songs is surely intended as a gift to the fans, who have eagerly awaited a wealth of Janovitz rockers. To those who have sat impatiently, wondering if Janovitz would ever reclaim his rock and roll spirit: rejoice in the staggering vitality of Fireworks on TV!. For those who are new to Janovitz's talents, here's as good a place to start as any.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image