How is it that keen observations about love blend so well with high-powered guitars? Half the joy of indie pop stems from the nuances, and especially the little feelings – the reverent touching for the first time, the fumbling for the right word, the agony in being ignored. The Buzzcocks celebrated rejection and the Wedding Present pined for acceptance, but both Shelley and Gedge strong-armed their personal tales into tangible, surging force.
Most of these things like kisses and touches are totally foreign to me – but the way the riffs churn, and the drums pound, and singer rushes ahead…well, if this whole love business could rev me up like the Fireworks do, then I want a piece of the action.
I’ll admit, on the first few listens, I only caught the sweetness – the boy-girl harmonies that define any respectable pop group with guitars, the clear chorus-refrain structures, the exclusively romantic content. These folk are, after all, alumni of such bubblegum guilds such as the Popguns, Big Pink Cake, and, indeed, the Wedding Present.
But even on dulcet hits like “Runaround” and “Tightrope”, you soon hear just how LOUD and scruffy those guitars can be. Not as loud as those jerkwads who max out their amps in a tiny concrete club, mind, but the Fireworks could certainly bash down any bullies that dare call them “twee”. “Took It All” plows ahead in a Ramones-ish blitz; “On and On” charges with such a bruising stomp that it’ll knock ya flat before you can pin it down. But even at their gnarliest – like on “Final Say”, with the heavy, heavy bass and jagged, Buzzcocks-ish edges – the Fireworks mean no harm. No siree, listen to how they lift up into the chorus, and the singer pleads for a happy resolution, somewhere “far away”, away from a world of nasty bickering (and nasty riffage). Does it work out? Who knows – although the shrieky solo that rages in the latter half of the song is a rather ominous sign.
Of course, the Fireworks can and do slow down. And that’s how Switch Me On works so damn well. The title track, for instance, floats in a House of Love-like haze at the LP’s center – if we wanna talk contemporaries, Hobbes Fanclub best take note. Meanwhile, “Let You Know” dials down the teethy riffs without shriveling into wimpy acoustic drivel. The warm twangs here embrace the classic sensitive-type tale, of a guy that’s gotta confess his love to a girl that would otherwise live the rest of her days alone – and the tune doesn’t drag or gush, just skips and swings and reaches for your hand. (And I’d take it! O heart, be still! I was just thinking this week, “Right-o, Lee, now’s the time to get yourself together and prepare for a very long life on your own, because –“ Oh, wouldn’t YOU want to know.)
As is often the case on such bangin’ albums like this, Switch Me On races by in such a pink-and-yellow blur that it’s gone before you can catch the license plate. For that reason, you’ve got to ride this sucker several times to see all the colors in the Fireworks’ arsenal. And trust me – you will, whether to relive the loop-de-loop finish of “On and On” or gorge on cracker jack treats like “Back to You”.
It’s love between friends, love as company, love as respect – love without beer, gifts, or sex. And I want it bad. Damn it, Fireworks. You’re that good.