Monday, September 20, 2010

New Wave for the New Week #84

We've Got A Fuzzbox & We're Gonna Use ItImage by Diego's sideburns via FlickrIn Birmingham, England, in 1985, a group of fresh-out-of-high-school girls decided to form a band.  They could play their instruments well enough to get by, but they had a giddy, loopy enthusiasm and a crackling energy that propelled them much further than their amateurish musical talents could have taken them alone. And they had both the neatest gimmick and the most unwieldy band name in history.

When sisters Jo and Maggie Dunne began practicing with Tina O'Neill and Vickie "Vix" Perks, they quickly decided they needed something to set them apart from the crowd.  Sporting multi-colored mohawks, gaudy thrift-store outfits and neon make-up, they had a signature look; now they needed a sound.  They found it in the form of distortion pedals for their guitars, which prompted Maggie to announce to her cohorts, "We've got a fuzzbox, and we're gonna use it!"  Not only did that become the band's statement of purpose, they adopted it as their name as well.

Within a year, We've Got A Fuzzbox And We're Gonna Use It had their first record out on the independent Vindaloo label, the double A-side "XX Sex"/"Rules And Regulations." Both songs were heavy on the distortion, burbling along with chanty cheerleader vocals and very simple arrangements; both were irresistibly catchy.  The single was soon expanded into a 5-song EP, with all five tracks on one side of a 12-inch record; the other side was unplayable, as the band etched self-drawn caricatures of themselves and messages to their fans into the vinyl.

The record sold well enough to get We've Got A Fuzzbox And We're Gonna Use It  noticed by the Geffen label, who rushed them into the studio for their debut album.  Bostin' Steve Austin appeared in mid-1986 in the UK, with the lead single, "Love Is The Slug," receiving a ton of airplay.  Geffen decided to release the record in the US, but they had two changes in mind: first, the title of the album was changed to the band's name. And second, about that name...they'd never get played on the radio with a name like We've Got A Fuzzbox And We're Gonna Use It, so the label had them truncate it to simply Fuzzbox.

That album is wonderful from start to finish.  The band's originals are uniformly enjoyable, hook-filled bits of punky-pop bubblegum. Their cover of Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit In The Sky" is jaw-dropping and not to be missed, and "Love Is The Slug" became a cult favorite and their most well-known song.  They seemed set for big things, but unfortunately the label wasn't done tinkering with the band.

A second album, Big Bang!, was unveiled in 1989, and left everyone scratching their heads. The girls had ditched their signature look in favor of a much more polished, "video-friendly" image. Worse, their was nary a fuzzbox to be heard anywhere on the record.  In fact, the girls did not play a single instrument on Big Bang! Geffen had essentially recast them as Bananarama version 2.0, sapping every last bit of personality from them.  A few of the songs weren't entirely bad: "Pink Sunshine" and "International Rescue" were pretty solid pop songs, but this wasn't what anyone who loved the first record wanted to hear. The only thing remotely reminiscent of the old Fuzzbox was their decision to cover Yoko Ono's "Walking On Thin Ice," and even that turned out to be a better idea in theory than in execution.  A single from what was a planned third album appeared later ("Your Loss My Gain"), but the backlash was too great to overcome, and Fuzzbox called it a day.

Vix went on to record a solo album while the other girls all dropped out of the music world completely.  The two albums fell out of print, but a few "best of" compilations of Fuzzbox songs have appeared over the years, the best being 2004's Look At The Hits On That!!, which collected the early singles and the best songs from the two albums along with a DVD containing all of the girls' promotional videos.

In early 2010, Fuzzbox got back together for a reunion. Only Tina did not join in; in her place they added a new drummer, Karen Milne, and bass player Sara Firebrand and launched a summer UK tour. They also recorded a new single, covering M's New Wave classic "Pop Muzik." Whether a new album is in the works remains to be seen.

This week's NW4NW entry is the clip for "Love Is The Slug," which still remains among my favorite songs and videos from the era. Enjoy!

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