“Now give me daughters, and make ’em one, two, three / And I will raise them, they’ll go to church with me.”
If Jonathan Fire*Eater‘s Stewart Lupton had only written one of the greatest lyrical couplets in history, that might have been enough. But the late/tragic frontman, along with his suavely provocative musical accomplices, actually released one of the most incomparable rock & roll records of the last quarter century, Tremble Under the Boom Lights – the very title of which was a clue to the underlying tensions and anxieties that surely made it so brilliant.
They also released it about four years too early.
In 1996, New York was starting to struggle back from years of an indie music scene so banal that somehow even Pavement were considered amongst its elite. And rising up from the junkie wonderland that was the pre-gentrification Lower East Side, the five gutter-glam gents that made up JF*E quickly but reluctantly became the fashionable darlings of Downtown, eventually securing a lucrative major label deal from Dreamworks. It was a time when rock still had its poets, and Lupton was one of the most poetic of them all – sightly more a “romantic” than a symboliste:
“Cut by love and cut by switchblade / He’s been gone nearly half a decade,” he memorably howled on “The Search For Cherry Red.”
And one can be quite sure the words were put to paper before the blood was even dry.
Alas, pretty much no one north of 23rd Street and west or south of the Holland Tunnel bought the record. But its legend was lamentably sealed when young Mr. Lupton – just 43 years old – departed from this mortal existence in 2018, with only a statement from his family that described it as: “His desperate attempt to escape the voices that so tormented him.”
Jack White’s Third Man Records has just blessedly undertaken to reissue the Tremble Under the Boom Lights EP this past Friday, October 25. For completists, included is a previously unreleased track, “In the Head.” But surely more poignantly, the black vinyl version can be purchased in a package together with a newly assembled collection of Lupton’s poetry, titled The Plural Atmosphere.
Would Jonathan Fire*Eater have found success if they had come up right alongside The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs as part of the class of 2000-2001? There’s no way to definitively say. But at least now this so unfortunately overlooked album will have the chance once again to find the audience it most definitely deserves.