erasing clouds

Bill Janovitz and Crown Victoria, Fireworks on TV!

reviewed by dave heaton

You can talk about emo or whatever (and define it however you want), but to me one of the rock bands that was best at capturing sheer emotion - at hitting you squarely in the heart - was Buffalo Tom. Bill Janovitz could be singing utter clichés, poetry hovering near the level of nonsense or simple but honest emotional statements (and he did plenty of all three) and the impact was the same - whatever he sang, it felt in that moment like he meant it more than anyone's ever meant anything. The effect of that can't be overestimated.

Since Buffalo Tom's break-up (I mean, overlong 'hiatus'), Bill Janovitz has released a truly fine acoustic-ish solo album, Up Here, quite a display of his songwriting skills and range. He's also been playing around the Boston area with a couple bands, one of which is called Crown Victoria. Fireworks on TV! is the recorded result of that long-running gig; some of its songs have been hanging around for a few years now (downloadable from his web site). Most importantly, it puts Janovitz in front of a rock and roll band for the first time (on record, at least) since Buffalo Tom. And while the band isn't quite as skilled at bolstering the emotional power of his songs as Buffalo Tom was, and they hang in the background from time to time, the songs here are excellent, more examples of how gifted Janovitz is at infusing small stories and moments with raw feeling, and how easily he comes up with great melodies.

Despite the presence of a rock band, the overall tone of Fireworks on TV! is more like a slightly more rocked-up version of Up Here's solitary, often melancholy songs than a successor to Buffalo Tom. Crown Victoria feel rather bar-band-ish on the most rocking tracks, and make a fairly light impression on some of the others. Yet there is a certain gleeful energy behind even the saddest of the songs that only the support of a band can provide. Janovitz sounds pleased to have that extra strength behind him, and it gives some of his songs an extra punch.

But ultimately what makes Fireworks on TV! such a rewarding album is simple - it's the songs. I find the strengths of Janovitz's songwriting hard to pin down, without just mentioning the usual things like how great the melodies are or how much feeling he puts in his songs. But there's an indefinable something that makes his songs comfortable and comforting yet not routine - even when he's working with the most routine of elements (a basic rock progression, common sentiments). That's the key, I think - he uses really ordinary elements to make songs that contain a certain type of magic. Against the odds, his songs feel truly special...and that's as true of these songs as of Buffalo Tom's best work, even if this band's musical stamp isn't nearly as distinctive as that band's was.


Issue 26, September 2004

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