On Skins, Buffalo Tom digs a little bit deeper than they have on their earlier work, and they sound like a band that’s gradually coming to grips with the notion of maturity. Whatever rust they showed on 2007’s Three Easy Pieces, their first album in nearly a decade, has been shaken off here. Skins is a polished, occasionally gritty rock record that, in its best moments, mines real conflict and resurrects the questions that have lingered since the mid ‘90s about why Buffalo Tom never quite broke into the big leagues.
Skins‘s songs are those of a middle-aged band: It isn’t an album of grizzled, get-off-my-lawn-isms, but it’s a mature work that isn’t afraid to confront matters of aging, and songs like “The Kids Just Sleep” and “Down” are drawn from true-to-life experiences and the perspective that comes from them. On “Don’t Forget Me,” frontman Bill Janovitz sings, “Don’t forget me/Everybody says at a certain age/When everything is moving too fast,” using the calloused surfaces of his tenor to great effect. That he’s joined by the always-welcome presence of Tanya Donelly makes the song an obvious standout, and Donelly is in predictably fine voice.
“Guilty Girls” and “Down” also boast powerful hooks, bolstered by thundering percussion and electric guitar power chords. The ability to structure their post-grunge rock songs around massive pop hooks has always been one of Buffalo Tom’s strengths, and Skins proves that they haven’t lost that skill. If there’s a knock against the record, it’s that it sounds out of time. Without changing a note of its current form, “Guilty Girls” would have been a great single to balance out something like Collective Soul’s “December” or Deep Blue Something’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” some 15 years ago.
Buffalo Tom doesn’t sound substantially different now than they did in the 1990s: They’re simply a sturdily built rock outfit—no more, no less. It’s admirable that the band has committed to a second act of their career and have challenged themselves by tackling more grown-up issues in their songwriting, but Skins doesn’t offer much more than a doggedly likable set of straightforward rock songs.