listening booth: the refreshments, “fizzy fuzzy big & buzzy”

Written by Music


The Refreshments
Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy (1996)

Here’s a little gem I stumbled across the other day while dusting my CD collection. You remember CDs, right? They were all the rage in the ’90s — they invaded the United States using massive warships from the faraway kingdom of Sony. Their pointy longboxes easily defeated our quaint, outmoded vinyl guardians, and drove the Cassette Resistance underground — not even a brave, last-minute surge by the Cassingle Infantry was enough to stop them.

That was long ago, of course, and now the CD has been all but hunted to extinction by the invisible, parasitic mp3. Audiophiles say the mp3 is an inferior format, but they said the same thing about CDs, and tapes, and vinyl that wasn’t played on a specially constructed hi-fi stereo system. Nobody has ever listened to audiophiles, yet they refuse to die. I’m sure their shrill screams of “Lossy!” and “Analog warmth!” will be among the last sounds of the human race when we finally melt into nuclear extinction.

But I digress. The point is, I had forgotten all about this album, and The Refreshments. I’m not the only one — the AMG refers to them as a “forgotten rock band from Tempe,” which is a bit of a slap in the face if you ask me. They can find ways to sum up the careers of artists like Christopher Cross and Tiffany with a straight face, but The Refreshments are summarily dismissed? I mean, yeah, okay, they only had the one hit (that being “Down Together”), but they were better than Sponge. Or Harvey Danger. Or Candlebox.*

Also, calling The Refreshments a “rock band” is like calling Cheap Trick a “rock band” — nominally true, but the kind of thing only a knucklehead would say. It’s power pop, goddammit, that most beautiful and fragile of rock & roll subgenres. The musical landscape is positively littered with bands who tried to do the power pop thing and failed: Big Star, The Replacements, Gladhands, Greenberry Woods, Rubinoos…well, you get the idea. In the wrong hands, it sounds positively atrocious, but when it’s done right, you can’t listen to it without feeling good about the world. Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy is a bunch of guys doing it right.

The AMG is right about one thing: The Refreshments were from Arizona. Led by future Peacemaker Roger Clyne, the band was part of an AZ music boomlet that included the Gin Blossoms. They weren’t as mopey as the Gins, but the two bands were similar enough in overall sound that they could be conveniently lumped together. But where Gin Blossoms songs were mostly about heartbroken sensitive types, The Refreshments were more of a good-time frat party band. A thinking frat party band — and one weirdly obsessed with Mexican themes — but still.

Fizzy Fuzzy had a few things going for it right off the bat. There was the album cover, for one, an ingenious bit of retro cheesecake that caused many a red-blooded male (yours truly not excepted) to stop at the endrack and pick up the CD. Then there was the aforementioned “Down Together,” a bright, sticky little three-minute confection that name-checked Dead Hot Workshop and made radio love feel like fun again. The summer of 1996 was when people started to realize that grunge was, at best, a healthy part of a balanced musical diet, and The Refreshments led the charge.

Anyway, don’t look for “Down Together” here — you’ve probably heard it before, after all. Besides, some of the other cuts on the album were even better. Like “European Swallow” (download), “Girly” (download), “Suckerpunch” (download), and “Carefree” (download).

Yeah. Like I said, it’s a little gem. It seemed like the band could be preparing for bigger and better things, but no — their next (and final) album, The Bottle and Fresh Horses, released the following year, was sadly inferior. There were some good songs, don’t get me wrong, but the overall sound was of a band that had run out of steam. The Refreshments broke up not long afterward, and Roger Clyne has been cranking out Tex-Mex pop-rock with his Peacemakers ever since. Check ‘em out, buy Fizzy Fuzzy, and party like it’s 1996.

*Nine out of ten bands were, are, and will forever be better than Candlebox. I’m just saying.