Boston’s fondly remembered angst-rockers Buffalo Tom return to dance on the grave of grunge. Everyone’s doing reformations these days (except him and them, of course, but you never know…). Stop by your local HMV or Virgin, and you’ll find the album racks full of more re-animations than a George A Romero flick.
It’s got to the stage that it’s more surprising for a band to now stay split than reform: groups that parted with daggers drawn and muttered reasons of ‘compromised artistic integrity’ are finding it strangely easy to bury the hatchet when they realise just how much they could make by yawning through five nights down at the local enormo-dome. And yes, Lou Reed, I do mean you.
Yet not all bands split up acrimoniously. Some, like Buffalo Tom, just gently drift apart. It’s been almost 20 years since their debut album, and nine since final hurrah Smitten, but the band have never really called it a day, getting together every year and playing live in front of still-appreciative crowds. Frontman Bill Janovitz even has a reasonable solo career, having released three albums since The Tom split.
This new album was born, to all accounts, out of a desire to justify their continued half-life. As Janovitz mentioned in an interview for the Boston Globe, “We couldn’t be an oldies band. So we thought either we’re going to make a new record or we’re going to stop.”
And – surprise! – it’s really rather good. From the startling mix of crunching chords and overwhelming harmonies that open Bad Phone Call to the final feedback squall of CC and Callas, the band don’t disappoint the fans that have waited for this comeback. It won’t set your world alight, you won’t feel the need to phone all your friends and proselytise about the Tom’s greatness, but at least half of the tracks on this album are truly great slabs of the best bits of The Replacements, Big Star and The Rolling Stones, all masticated together for easy digestion.
What’s rather surprising is that the band don’t actually seem any older. I played Three Easy Pieces next to Buffalo Tom’s career highpoint, 1992’s Let Me Come Over, and the two blend together seamlessly for the most part. A mixed blessing, maybe, but the band were always a little old for their shoes, anyway, and while the lyrical concerns of Three Easy Pieces may have moved beyond breakups and peer pressures, tracks like September Shirt could easily have been beamed up directly from the ’90s.
There are some minor stylistic flourishes that make you perk your ears up: Pendleton marches onwards with nary a guitar in sight, a brooding, thoughtful take on growing up and growing away. But, in general, Three Easy Pieces sounds like a ‘lost’ Buffalo Tom album, one that could have come out at any time in the ’90s, and if you’re already a fan of the band you’ll fall in love with much of this album. If not, there are ample subtle pleasures to be sifted through here, so have a listen to Pendleton, try a but of Bottom Of The Rain, and, if they grab you, go and blow your hard-earned currency on this in your nearest independent record store.