statcounter

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Bottle and Fresh Horses - 20 Year Anniversary!!!

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.

“Tributary Otis”

The 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 Fizzy (“Preachers,” “Fonder and Blonder,” “Birds Sing”). “Tributary 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.

“Preacher’s Daughter”

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.

My 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 Miserable Experience. The spastic, double-time ending is very Green Day, a band we all liked.

“Wanted”

One of the oldest songs on Bottle, “Wanted” 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 before Fizzy, 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.

“Sin Nombre”

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.

Written 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 shut.

“Heaven or the Highway Out of Town”

This 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.

The 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 รก 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.

“Buy American”

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 song.

We 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, everyone.

“Dolly”

This is another pre-Fizzy song we kept as a holdover for Bottle so 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.

“Good Year”

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”

We rarely played “Fonder” live, either before or after the release of Bottle. 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.

“Birds Sing”

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”

“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.

“Broken Record”

“Broken 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.

As 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 Fizzy. Seen in that light, “Broken Record” is the one track on Bottle I feel is better than its “sister” song on Fizzy. It 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.

“Una Soda”

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?)

B-Side Bonus Track

“Uh Oh”

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 chorus.

Also, I love the bridge, and—surprise!—the backing vocals!

3 comments:

Brian Kelly said...

This is great insight into the creative process, Art, thanks!

Brian Kelly

Anonymous said...

I've loved this album for a long time. I know that it seems to have been a painful time for you and the guys in the band, but I hope that you can appreciate what a great record it is. For me, it certainly isn't a poor sister to Fizzy!

Art Edwards said...

Thanks for your comments. So glad the record means something to you. The band was a big part of my life. That anyone still listens to any of it makes me proud.

And Brian, glad the insights ran true for you. This and the Fizzy one were a lot of fun to pull together.