Wednesday, November 12, 2008

THE REVIEW CORNER -- The Refreshments: Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy (1996 issue, Polygram)

There are some albums out there that pass under the radar amongst the general population, but serve as hidden gems to epitomize a certain time and place.

Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy by The Refreshments - one of a handful of bands that came out of Tempe, Arizona in the late 80s and 1990s - defined what a Tempe bar band sounded like in that time period, and define the culture and landscapes of Arizona...and the life of an Arizonan passing across the border to a town such as Rocky Point, Mexico.

This is a bit of a rambly and scattered post, so bear with...hopefully it should give off a feel much like the album in question...scattered and wistful tequila brains.

Lots of memories lie in the Sonoran Desert and the highways between Tempe, Tucson and Rocky when all of ASU and UofA would head down there for the Labor Day weekend to let loose.

So then I guess it only makes sense to set a tone and paint the picture by the lyrics from one of the album's premier tracks, "Mexico":
Well the good guys and the bad guys,
they never work past noon around here.

They sit side by side in the cantina,

talk to senoritas,
and drink more beer.

You get the idea...

This album also screams Tucson on was first introduced to me by a friend who came to visit me from Phoenix after I'd first moved there at the end of 1995 for a job. The band took hold, and I saw them live later that year at what was called the courtyard in front of the America West building (now defunct airline) in Tempe, in the heart of several bars whose names I've long forgotten.

I'd throw on the disc occasionally for a couple years thereafter, but it really reared its head back on New Year's Eve 2000...for some reason it was the fitting selection for that time...and my good friend Mr. Mop was introduced to the band on that night as well.

The open desert sky and 90s college lifestyle of Arizona, through a drunken tequila-tinged long-range looking glass, are all over this album. It opens with the rager "Blue Collar Suicide," seemingly a love/hate bitch session about a girlfriend.

Another highlight is "Mekong," with some of the album's most classic lines:

We need to go around again

One for me and what's his name

My new best friend

Deal me in and I'll
pick my cards up off the floor
I'll see a lucky coin

And raise a pack of lies

Smile to the girl at the door

Another 4 dollar whore

But don't look her in the eyes

She'll break your heart

We came all the way

From Tempe today

Still Bangkok's pissin' rain
and we're going blind again
And I haven't seen my girl
in fifteen thousand miles

Well is it true

It's always happy hour here

And if it is I'd
like to stay a while
Well as cliche as it may sound

I'd like to raise another round

And if your bottle's empty

Help yourself to mine

Thank you for your time

And here's to life

Much of the album seems to psychologically moan and ache into the absurd...almost boasting, in a strange way, an overblown wistful element.

It might seem far-fetched, but it actually echoes the fate of many who pass through the transient desertscape of Arizona, and speaks to the ever elusive Rosetta Stone that resolves each person's trials and tribulations lying somewhere in the timeline of the enigmatic and beautiful Sonoran Desert.

I know. I lived it...the good, the bad, and the ugly., to that effect, there's also the life-gone-into-the-trash tune "Interstate":

Well you should have known better
Dead thoughts and lost horizons

And to take it further

It don't get any better

Well out here on the border

Ain't nobody asking questions

No I don't need a miracle

But I could use a push in the right direction

Handgun and a bottle of Boone's

and a "69" Ford
and a new pair of shoes

Left from Boise Idaho '95

When they crossed the state line

They were just in time to fall
Asleep at the wheel

Last fact of the matter

Never was no facts involved

And to take it further

It never really matters

Well out here on the border

Ants drag bones across the hot dry ground

and over there at the trailer park

They got a million souls at the lost and found

While it may seem a bit like a eulogy of a soul now camped out in the desolate corner of the junkyard on a hot Phoenix day pushing 120 degrees, the poetry and imagery of this band was never stronger in any of its work...I would imagine...not that I really know what I'm talking about here.

Oddly enough, I've never actually heard another album by The Refreshments, and I'm not convinced that I ever need to. The statement that is this lost 90s classic,
Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy, says everything to me that I need to know from this corner of the tequila bar, just over the Arizona border in that little Mexican town known as Rocky Point.

Here's more of an official report on The Refreshments:

While the Gin Blossoms were Tempe, AZ's most recognizable band in the post-grunge era, the Refreshments were perhaps the town's hometown favorite. Their brand of alternative pop/rock owed much to the band's Southwestern environs, whose influence increased with their sophomore effort The Bottle & Fresh Horses (and later came to fruition with the spin-off Americana outfit Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers).

Oddly enough, the very elements that endeared the Refreshments to their Arizona audiences -- the quartet's localized sound, mariachi-styled detours, and Tempe-centric lyrics -- prevented their music from finding true national appeal apart from the modern rock hit "Banditos." The fledgling Mercury Records sacked the group after their second album failed to provide a follow-up hit to "Banditos," and the Refreshments called it quits the following year (Mercury would also fold in 1998, having been absorbed into the Island Def Jam Music Group). Nevertheless, the Refreshments' legacy lives on in the Southwest, where the aforementioned Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers have since emerged as one of the area's biggest draws.
The Refreshments' roots date back to 1993, when Arizona State grads Roger Clyne (vocals, guitar), Brian David Blush (guitar), and Arthur "Buddy" Edwards (bass) first convened for a night of drinking and card-playing. A musical partnership formed and was soon completed by P.H. Naffah (drummer), whose association with Clyne would later extend into the Peacemakers. The band issued a self-released full-length debut, Wheelie, in 1994, with an EP titled Lo, Our Much Praised Yet Not Altogether Satisfactory Lady following shortly thereafter.

Both releases proved to be incredibly popular locally, with the original 2,000 pressings of Wheelie selling out quickly. Mercury Records took note and signed the band in 1995, later issuing their major-label debut, Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy, in 1996. Propelled by the hit single "Banditos," whose irreverent lyrics spun the tale of a Mexican crime caper, the album enjoyed moderate success. The Refreshments' good luck continued into 1997, when an instrumental composition (which the band had previously performed during soundchecks) was chosen as the iconic TV theme song for King of the Hill.

The band's mature follow-up, The Bottle & Fresh Horses, was also released in 1997, but it failed to gain much traction outside of local Arizona radio. The Refreshments subsequently lost their contract with Mercury, and the group disbanded in 1998. Buddy Edwards refashioned himself as a fiction writer, and Blush found work as a guitarist for several local bands. Clyne and Naffah would continue to explore the intersection of traditional Southwestern music and rock & roll with Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers, an Arizona supergroup whose lineup has featured members of the Gin Blossoms, Dead Hot Workshop, and Gloritone. ~ Andrew Leahey, All Music Guide

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