Buffalo Tom - Let Me Come Over

by Sean Hewson Rating:10 Release Date:2017-05-19

My first introduction to Buffalo Tom was hearing Taillights Fade on XFM in 1992. It's still one of my favourite songs. So, Let Me Come Over was my first and favourite Buffalo Tom album. For me it marks the place where they are perfectly balanced between their Husker Du/Replacements/Dinosaur Jr punk roots and their love of more classic rock bands and song structures.

Produced by the band with Paul Q. Kolderie and Sean Slade, this 25th anniversary edition also adds a ferocious live show from the U.L.U. in 1992 and an excellent bonus track, Crutch.
Opening track Staples introduces the band one by one. First comes Chris Colbourn's bass with whispers from Bill Janovitz'z guitar, then Tom Maginnis's busy drums. Finally, Janovitz's throaty, emotional voice crashes in, with Colbourn's backing vocal in support. It has a first-take immediacy and commitment but is also well-produced. A guitar arpeggio, backed by strummed acoustic introduces Taillights Fade. It's that rare thing, a grunge ballad that hasn't been killed by MTV over-saturation. Janovitz's impassioned, devastated vocal and lyric stop this song from ever becoming over-familiar (listen to his throat-shredding vocal on the live version). It's their finest achievement and one of the finest achievements of the era.

Mountains Of Your Head is a ragged form of Power Pop. Listening on headphones reveal a very odd piano line to me for the first time. Mineral, also a single, is an acoustic ballad, again sung by Janowitz in a broken voice. His voice really is a strength for the band. Possibly not as strong as Cobain's or Lanegan's but still a real emotional weapon. Mineral, like Staples, also reveals Colbourn to be a subtle and imaginative bass player. Absolutely essential in a three-piece, especially one in which Janovitz and Maginnis take up so much space. His bass is often the still part in the songs alongside the frantic drumming and strumming of his mates. Darl is the first Colbourn vocal and, I'm guessing, is taken from Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. Colbourn is also a great singer and song-writer (his best moment would come on the following album with Late At Night). His voice is even more on the edge than Janovitz's, exacerbated by his tendancy to write songs in a key where he's straining.

Larry is one of my favourite songs on the album. A great Janovitz chord progression, married to a simple but brilliant bass line from Colbourn and frantic drumming from Maginnis. The time signature seems odd but that just might be because Janowitz's delays his vocal's entrance in each verse. Second single, Velvet Roof, storms in on a Stones riff. It has a tremendous momentum and is an Indie Disco classic. The Stones vibe is enhanced later by some wheezy harmonica. It finishes abruptly leaving Colbourn to start off I'm Not There, it's a strong song but can't quite compete with what has just gone. It does have another subtle piano line set against a noise guitar solo by Janovitz. Throughout the album his guitar sound and parts are quite savage but are kept on a leash by the production. Another wonderful-sounding Janovitz chord progression backed by Maginnis's scattershot drumming starts off Stymied. There are layers of distorted, rhythm guitar here - a real treat for the ears. You can also hear how, throughout the album, Janowitz and Colbourn's backing vocals on each other's songs are really just competing lead vocals, mixed down a bit. I don't think anyone ever sings a harmony.

Porchlight is throwaway pop with a familiar chord progression that Ash would later use in Girl From Mars. It is brought alive by Janovitz's vocal. Like most of the lyrics on this album it comes in the form of a short story, rather like Bruce Springsteen. Frozen Lake is another acoustic ballad with Janovitz's Astral Weeks-like strumming. This time the drums are left out (aside from tambourine) with just bass and an almost Shoegaze guitar filling out the arrangement. Another nasty-sounding rhythm guitar part kicks off Frozen Lake, which is a sprint to the finish line.

Let Me Come Over captures Buffalo Tom at their absolute best - their best songs, played with taste and punk energy. Taillights Fade, Velvet Roof and Larry stand up against any of their contemporaries' songs. It is a wonderful album - focused, but also slightly ragged. A pretty straight production hides a lot of little treats, especially coming from Janovitz's guitar (listen to the live tracks to hear the band at their unrestrained best). To me it's a classic and Buffalo Tom - who possibly suffered from being quieter and more normal-looking than their contemporaries - need to be recognised as an important band in the history of American Punk music.

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