Wednesday, July 20, 2016

For All to See

The heat wave has arrived.  Summer is here with emphasis so of course it's time to rock out.  What better to listen to, than "Big Red Letter Day" from Buffalo Tom.

Buffalo Tom, frequently derided as dinosaur jr clones (dinosaur jr jr?) had a lot more going for them than that.  Buffalo Tom's sound was/is a built on noisy guitar buzz for sure, but they had big guitar riffs, melodic and production hooks aplenty, and oblique enough lyrics to make it all seem important, for four minutes anyway (four what more could you ask?)   

Released in 1993 on Beggars Banquet, "Big Red Letter Day" was Buffalo Tom's fourth album and a high water commercial mark for the band, merging their fuzz rock with pop sensibilities.  The album became a (college) rock album hit with several singles, most notably "Sodajerk" and "Treehouse," seeing chart success.  Even though BRLD's sound can be fixed to certain time and place, and it certainly doesn't break new ground, it is a brilliant summer album. By turns, raucous and rowdy, boisterous and full of bravado, it has a surprisingly sensitive center and its lyrics are darker than one would expect for such a big sounding album.

The big guitar riffs that lead into "sodajerk's" opening lines "Watch an eyeball, take a freefall, at the mention of a name," waste no time getting down to business and working up a sweat, and although it might not make a whole lot of sense, it's impossible to listen to the "Jerk my fountain" line and not smile.  The band is giving it all they have, but they aren't taking it too seriously. 

Perhaps realizing they were soundtracking a generation x of bar-b-q's, the band pulls back from the sweatabyss welcome-to-the-party opening track.  "i'm allowed" arrives all uncertain and belligerent, looking for a beer and somebody to talk to.  "Came to the party, but I got my own signals crossed.  Thought I was welcome, but I felt like I should get lost."  Navigating a crowd, whether its friends or strangers requires great skill or utter fearlessness and this song has both.
"Seasons change" again with the uptempo rocker, "treehouse" and folks are getting settled in now.  The beer is flowing, the steaks are just about to go on the grill and the sun is still circular on the pool.  Folks are playing some volleyball off to the side of the house and everybody's making nice.  This is what summer is all about, working up a sweat and showing as much skin as possible.

The cool down doesn't take long to arrive again with "would not be denied."  Ordinarily, this fast, slow, fast, slow sequencing would be a bit of a schizophrenic listen, but on "Big Red Letter Day" it's a balancing act of rambunctious ball throwing and beer chugging, exchanged with quiet asides beside the pool, positioning the events later in the evening, if luck and lyric allow.  Having one of the best melodies of the album, as well as the best example of loud/soft dynamics, certainly doesn't hurt the sequencing either. 

"latest monkey" and "my responsibility" continue the up and down sequencing, but the highs aren't as high and the slows are just a little more more.  The food is ready and everybody is digging in as the sun starts to hit the trees.  The party has hit a pause. 

The evening shift starts with "dry land;" uptempo and melodic but nothing extreme.  Food has been eaten, folks are settling into chairs or standing behind them.  Roles are cast, lines are set and the act awaits the musical cue.  Something to sway to, something to nod your head to, but the only thing sweaty now is the beer clenched firmly in a hand.  The transition from the fade of "dry land" to the guitar strum opening of "torch singer" sets a damn near perfect mood.  "late at night" adds some late breaking drama to the mix.  Bracingly pungent and slightly unpleasant, the wind down isn't gonna be perfect and some hearts might be broken before the party is over.  "Suppose" closes down the conflict and gets everybody back in a good mood before heading off into the night.

"Anything that way" leaves the party hosts doing a little clean up, before giving up and promising the rest of it to tomorrow.  They are both wondering if they should have told their friends about their pregnancy or if it's too soon and if that might have been the last bbq in a while.  They upright a couple unsettled lawnchairs and watch the fireflies for awhile before heading into the house and off to bed.

Buffalo Tom's profile was never higher after the success of "Big Red Letter Day," but they were unable to capitalize, despite releasing a couple stellar post-BRD singles in "Summer" and "Tangerine."  Their moment and sound fell into fickle disfavor and after a couple more entertaining albums in the same vein with diminishing results, popularly and artistically the band called it a (temporary) day with "Smitten" in 1998.

How fertile was the songwriting period for Buffalo Tom?  Enough so that they could write and product 4 more tracks for b-sides and compilations that equal anything on the album proper.  In the never ending ultimate sequence quest, here's a "Bigger, Redder, Letter Day."  (and totally not a dig on the original album sequence, just trying to fit the bonus songs in the context of the album instead of pasting them at the end.  adding "the way back" after the "dry land/torch singer" couplet certainly extends a certain perfect mood just a little bit longer and I totally don't understand why "late at night" doesn't end the album)

I'm allowed
Would not be denied
Witches broom (b side)
For all to see (no alternative)
Latest monkey
My responsibility
Butterscotch (b side)
Dry land
Torch singer
The way back (b side)
Anything that way
Late at night
Anything that way (live)
Late at night (live)

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