Yes, 20 years ago today the Refreshments second album The Bottle and Fresh Horses went on sale. I recently took an aural stroll through the album, and here are my notes.
songs on this album I divide into three categories: songs we wrote
and saved from before we recorded Fizzy
(“Broken Record,” “Dolly,” “Wanted,” “Buy American,”
“Una Soda”), songs we wrote while touring to support Fizzy
(“Sin Nombre,” “Heaven of the Highway Out of Town”) and songs
we wrote after touring for
“Fonder and Blonder,” “Birds Sing”).
Otis” strikes me as falling into the middle category, though I
admit my memory fails me a bit on this point. It’s the first song
on the album largely by default. I don’t think we recorded a
strong opening track, and something had to go there.
I like the tune, with a couple of caveats. I’m especially fond of
the bass line in the intro section, and the background vocals in the
chorus and outro. Some of the vocal notes were barely in my range, so
I'm happy they came out at all. I feel like this was the first song
where Roger internalized that he had to write at least two verses for
each of his songs. I listen to this second verse and picture him
carefully testing the waters of this new approach. My absolute
favorite part of the song is the intro C and D chords that start it.
In hindsight, I wish we’d ended the song the same way.
A good rocker, and a “new” song for us at the time. The backing
vocals in the chorus, improvised by Roger in the studio, never quite worked for me, and I struggled to sing them live.
favorite parts of the song are the breaks right before and after the
solo. During pre-production for the recording, we were taking the
second chorus straight into the solo, and I suggested we try this
pause instead. We ran the idea once and Brian sneakily put that
wah-wah lick where the pause was supposed to go, which won me over.
Roger’s guitar sounds great on this track. The feel of the second
half of the solo could've been lifted off half of the songs from New
The spastic, double-time ending is very Green Day, a band we all
of the oldest songs on Bottle,
came to life in the era that also brought us “Buy American” and
“Dolly.” It was a staple for the band’s live show from well
even as early as 1994 when we played it as our leadoff song for the
Ticketmaster Battle of the Bands contest finals. Roger brought this
one to the basement with a more elaborate bridge—actually, a second
bridge after the one you hear in the song. The excised bridge
involved a complete time/tempo change, akin to something a mariachi
band might play. Roger had trouble conveying his idea, and the rest
of us encouraged him to abandon it. I wish we’d taken the time to
flesh it out now. “Wanted” struck me as a surefire hit at the
time of its inception, and now I think it blends in a little too well
with the rest of our material. A drop-dead, game-changing second
bridge could’ve changed that. I love the backing vocals for the
first half of the chorus, but I’ve never liked the segment in the
second half where I follow Roger up as he goes falsetto. I wish I had
that one back. Finally, the “party on” segment falls a little
flat as well, except for the great Roger freakout at the end.
This is the best sounding song on the album. I love the drum intro,
and the moan Paul Leary left in from Roger warming up for a vocal
take. I like the harmonies in the chorus as well, with Roger going low at its
beginning and me singing the high part. Blush’s solo is just
blistering. I think this track comes off as well as any on the album.
It’s a track essentially about being depressed—very apt
considering where we were individually at the time of recording.
while touring to support Fizzy,
this track was a favorite of mine to play the role of “Nada” or
“Don’t Wanna Know” on Bottle.
Sadly, it never quite measured up to the Fizzy
“ballads.” It’s more existential than those songs; there’s
little romance to its lament. Finally, my vocal-out was something I
pushed to have included. I was trying my best to do a Mike Mills
thing at the end, and like much on this album, it didn’t quite
work. I wished I’d either sung the whole line or kept my mouth
“Heaven or the Highway Out of Town”
was clearly one of Blush’s best songs from the time he brought it
into the practice room. I’m partial to rockers, and this became one
of my favorites to play live. Also, I think it’s one of the
strongest recordings on Bottle,
right up there with “Sin Nombre.” Traditionally, backing vocals
in a chorus are sung two steps higher than the main vocal. In the
chorus of “Heaven,” Roger and I switch roles, so he’s singing
the high part and I’m singing the low or “main” part. Then at
the end of the chorus, I go back to singing a higher, more
traditional backing vocal part. The harmonies in the chorus of the
Gin Blossoms’ “Follow You Down” were no doubt an influence.
slot machine sounds at the beginning were producer Paul Leary’s
addition, which Blush of course loved. The bass in the solo section
was a don’t-give-a-shit-what-anyone-else-is playing moment á
la the end of “Banditos” or “Mekong.” Roger and I had a
“na-na-na” line we tried to incorporate at the end of the song,
but we had trouble nailing it, and I don’t think Blush cared too
much for us singing over his solo-out. Again, the song suffers a bit
for basically repeating the same verse twice, a common band malady. I
remember how tough it was sometimes to come up with at least two
great verses, but I now wish we'd managed it. Still, this song still works for me.
One day probably in 1994 Roger came to practice and said, “Dude,
play this bass line.” He showed it to me, and it sounded great.
From there, Roger sang words over the top, and everyone joined in for
the chorus. The song, “Buy American,” would be part of our
regular Tempe set from quite a while. Roger co-oped the line “Buy
American” from a Dead Hot Workshop song called “Saddamizing
Hussein.” He even sings the line like Babb sings it in the Dead Hot
transformed the song quite a bit when P.H. came aboard. We were
anxious to somehow feature more of P.H.’s skills on Bottle,
and the intro of “Buy American” was one such place. We all liked
this track, and we expected it to shine a little brighter than it
eventually did on Bottle.
Having only one verse is again an issue, so much so that I tried to
incorporate a Mike Mills-like backing part over the second verse. In
the end, that idea was largely vetoed, with my echo of Roger’s line
“Come along, there's a little something in it for you” the only
remnant left. The chorus made total sense when Roger brought the song
into the basement, but playing it live over an extended period resulted in a mutation of it.
After much debate, we decided to record the mutation instead of the
way the lines were originally written. Keep your clothes still on,
is another pre-Fizzy
song we kept as a holdover for Bottle
we wouldn’t be forced to build our sophomore album from scratch. I
still like the plan, but in the end it helped lead to recordings
that were a notch below what we’d hoped for them. “Dolly” falls
into this category for me. It already felt like an old song by the
time we recorded it for Bottle,
and I think it shows. Also, the backing vocals (bet you didn’t know
these records were all about the backing vocals, did you) sound
over-produced, which I think is the result of me not quite nailing
them in the studio. I had a tendency to slide up to notes when a more
direct approach was needed (see the pre-chorus), which may have been
the problem here.
Still, Roger kills the second verse with his vocal take, again
covering up for the lack of a second verse, but that kind of
performance trumps anything.
I’m only going to write some positive things about “Good Year,”
because I've heard enough negative stuff about it.
I was excited that this track incorporated a dual lead vocal of
Roger and me. This was the only time we ever tried anything like
that, and I was always up for singing more. Today, I would change a
few things about my part, but overall I'm glad it's there.
“Good Year” isn’t some kind of natural disaster. It has some
interesting verse lyrics and a clever turn of phrase in the chorus,
but it does tread closely to eighties glam metal, especially in the
intro. Not the vibe you wanted to invoke in 1997, but this
song—mind-bogglingly—was what the label wanted as the first
single, and what the label wants...
“Fonder and Blonder”
rarely played “Fonder” live, either before or after the release
The track has the feel of a ballad-y single, for which
there was never much of a demand amongst the four of us, but I always felt like the Refreshments could nail a
quieter, more sincere number that wins over people who would never
embrace “Banditos.” I also like the harmonies in the pre-chorus. Once again, the backing vocal parts are barely in my range, but I
think they came out sounding well enough. I also love the bass lick
in the third pre-chorus, just enough puckishness to remind you we
hadn’t lost our sense of humor.
Roger nailed the lead vocal, as well as the “demons in your head”
addition. The track feels a little quick to me, played like the band
can’t wait to get it over with. I slowed it down quite a bit when I
re-recorded it years later. As much as I love the song, it sounds a little simple now, which isn’t helped by its lack of a third verse.
Years later, I changed the second half of the third verse to “And
if those things I did and said/Are still ringing in your head.”
Anything to avoid the repetition of the first verse.
I'm grateful the track made the album. I wouldn't have liked supporting an album with none of my songs on it, and before I cranked
this one out late in pre-production, that was looking like the case.
“Horses” has what in modern parlance you might call a backing
vocal bomb. Roger composed “Horses” as a sincere country ballad.
Just before it was time to record the backing vocals, I went into the
studio kitchen and grabbed the tequila bottle. I took one shot, then two, then went into the soundproof
vocal room. “Ready,” I said to producer Paul Leary.
The next ten or so minutes were my craziest vocal moments ever in
the studio. I just took out all of my frustrations on that song. The
version of the backing vocals you hear on the album is my second
take. My first was so spastic I asked Producer Leary to cut it,
which he did reluctantly. With the ice broken, everyone joined in on
the vocal fun, including Brian and P.H., and the result is one of the
few pleasant surprises on the album. “Horses” is a cartoonish, cry-in-your-beer country song in the same way that “Mexico” is a
cartoonish, white-guy mariachi song. Still, without the special
backing vocal treatment, it might not have made the
Record” was always one of my favorite songs to play live, but
when it came time to record it for Bottle,
everyone seemed anxious to take it to another level. The decision to
alter the later chorus rhythm tracks was one we all participated in
and were excited about. We tried many variations, but once Brian
added his wah-wah lick, we knew we had a winner. The last chorus is
supposed to be Roger, Brian, and me playing our parts at the exact
wrong moments, kind of like when a crowd is clapping along to song
and one person is clapping on the wrong beat.
much as I like the song, it shocks me in retrospect how much “Broken
Record” resembles “Suckerpunch” in style and sentiment, and I
can’t help but notice how easily some of Bottle’s
songs could be seen as lessor versions of similar songs on
Seen in that light, “Broken Record” is the one track on
I feel is better than its “sister” song on Fizzy.
might be the only such example on the album. Too bad we couldn’t
get it any higher than track 12 on the album. I would’ve been happy
had it been the first single.
This is another holdover Roger song from his Mortals days, and it
has its obvious charm. Its story line is strong, and there’s much
here for a Refreshments fan to relate to. Still,“Una Soda” rarely made our live set, so once we recorded it, it was
pretty much gone. I remember substituting it for “Nada” one night
on the road in 1997—maybe Denver?—and that was perhaps the only
time the track took precedence over that other more defining song
from our history. That’s a lot to compete against, but we weren’t
about to slow the set down that far twice in one night.
I’d love to edit the the track down to four minutes, delete some
of the more basic strumming parts and get to that wonderful bridge a
little quicker. You’ll be shocked to know I also love the harmonies
in the bridge. (That backing vocalist is something, isn’t he?)
What I love most about “Uh Oh” is that it was a coming-together
of the four of us during the writing process, as opposed to one
member bringing in a song that the rest of us had to learn and
refine. I think you can hear the fun we're having on the track. It
sounds like four guys having a good time, as
opposed to four guys hammering through a rote performance and going home. The main reason the track was a B-side is that no one
wanted to deal with the legal hassle of getting all those the other acts to
sign off on our right to use their copyrightable material in our
song. It would’ve cost a lot in legal fees alone to go through that
process, so I get why we did what we did, but in retrospect I think
it was the wrong call. I think this song was our one real chance at a
hit single from this album. Still, it's more of a novelty song than even
“Banditos,” and it would’ve tilted us even closer to Barenaked Ladies land than I think we would’ve liked. We liked to think of ourselves as
an original band with original songs. It’s all right there in the
Also, I love the bridge, and—surprise!—the backing vocals!
Read my comments on the 20th anniversary of Fizzy, Fuzzy, Big & Buzzy.