Monday, August 09, 2004

Refrigerated Love: A History

I was very surprised when I heard recently that U.K. band Refrigerated Love were reuniting - after nearly five years apart - for a winter tour and possible new album. It occurred to me that RL is one of those rare beasts, a vastly prolific but vastly unknown group. So, for those of you who have never heard of them, I thought I'd shed some light on their background. I'll warn you, it's a long and convoluted history, so grab a beverage and settle in…

Roots
In 1979 school friends Colin Porthorn and Nigel Hornblower began performing in clubs as a folk duo called The Coldsmen. Porthorn's raspy choirboy tenor and Hornblower's dexterous guitar technique were a fine combination, but they were severely out of step with the times. So they wised up and recruited mates "Pasty" Pete Pockhorn, Elvis Hornman, Hornel Lieberman, and Ricky Hornblatt for drums, lyrics, keyboards, and tambourine respectively. The group took on the new-wavier name Refrigerated Love and set off on the path to stardom!

Stardom
1981 saw their self-titled debut album on Polydor records. It met with little fanfare and even less success. Had the 1982 follow-up Plant Lives not contained the minor hit Sequoias Of Your Heart they might have disappeared forever. As it was, they had a string of modest successes over the next three years: Defrost Before Heating, Monster Mashers, and Gardening Secrets (which was, believe it or not, inspired by the Frances Hodgson Burnett children's classic Secret Garden).

Though they had plenty of material ready, the band opted not to release an album in 1986, mainly at the urgings of staunch numerologist Hornman. He firmly believed that because the digits of the year added up to 24 it would mean commercial disaster for the band. (In 1995 he was proven correct when the band put out A Life In A Day, an instrumental effort that Hornman refused to participate in…it tanked).

As a result the band saved their best songs for their next album (something they had never done before) and came up with the 1987's blockbuster Heart Like A Flying Car. The album sold 12 million copies on the strength of two number one singles (I Am The Robot and Inside, Outside, Upside Down), and gave the already-daring band a carte blanche for artistic experimentation. Thus, in late '87 they released 10 albums simultaneously. Each album contained only one song and their success varied wildly. While Tail (Lights) was a bonafide hit and sold 2 million, My Handlebar Mustache could only be described as a failure at 15,000 sold.

Descent
Undeterred, the band made one more risky move, switching band duties for Have We Lost Our Minds, Yes We Have, which debuted in 1988. "Pasty" Pete took on guitar, Elvis Hornman banged the drums, Colin Porthorn wrote the lyrics, Hornel Lieberman handled the vocals, and Nigel Hornblower shook the tamboruine while Ricky tickled the keys. Critics derided the result (saving their kind words only for Lieberman's vocals), and fans stayed away in droves.

Their hard-earned trust, success and goodwill now frittered away, the band rushed out a compilation in time for the '88 holiday shopping season, Worst Hits. Strangely, the album was comprised of 8 of the 10 songs that appeared on Heart Like A Flying Car, along with Tail (Lights), Sequoias Of Your Heart, and two new songs: You're My Ruler and Pillow Silence.

Going Solo
The band took 1989 off, releasing a 1982 concert recording as Live On (Live). 1990 saw the band back in action, albeit as solo artists. Every member released a solo album that year, save "Pasty" Pete who was content to play drums on all of the albums. Hornblower's Hullabulloops was chock full of lengthy electric guitar solos and had vocals that were recorded exclusively through a vocoder. Mystery Pants features the now classic cover photo of Colin Porthorn; he's standing shirtless, holding up two pairs of ladies jeans (one in each hand) with a quizzical look on his face. The album contained nothing but over-the-top power ballads named after women (Erica and Brooke both fared quite well on the singles chart). Hornman gave us Chorus Verse Chorus, a spoken word collection of his poetry. Ricky Hornblatt's surprisingly rootsy effort was entitled Fencepost and spawned the biggest hit of the lot, the story song Sam and Diane. Finally, Hornel Lieberman once again got the best of his bandmates, releasing A Warm Bowl Of Chili. The sweet blast of power pop made the critics fall all over themselves praising it, and it won that year's Grammy ® for Most Superlative Adjectives Applied (they don't give this award during the actual telecast).

Ups and Downs
In 1991, the band wisely sidestepped the onset of Grunge and filled the shelves with a hastily and lazily compiled B-Sides / Rarities collection, They Weren't Good Enough To Be On The Albums. Looking ahead, 1992 saw the release of Songs For The Year 1996. It was a modest hit, but the band couldn't strike gold twice and the 1993 sequel Songs For The Year 2006 sold poorly. This led to a safer bet, '94s We Refuse To Pun The Word Cover, wherein the band reinterpreted classics by the likes of Pat Benetar, Laura Brannigan, Melissa Manchester, Irene Cara, Sheena Easton, and others. It sold very well around Valentine's Day!

After the 1995 disaster of A Life In A Day, the band began to seriously question its ability to have two hit albums in row. If only they had known what awaited them! 1996's Underplayed rocketed the band back to the top of the charts on the back of the single Stick It To Me, which was featured prominently in a Dentyne commercial. They finally kept their momentum with Exercise Bike, the 1997 album that gave us not only a hit title track (the lyrics "Move your legs / breathe in deep" inspired that year's white dance craze), but also the new Christmas classic Santa's Lament.

Unfortunately Refrigerated Love didn't get much time to celebrate their success. In late '97 Ricky Hornblatt was killed in a freak accident while playing guitar in his bathtub. The band took 1998 to mourn, releasing More Worst Hits to complete its contract with Polydor. After a little publicized bidding war, they re-signed with Polydor and set about soldiering on.

Early 1999 saw the release of a new live album, Songs From Our Next Album - Live. Unfortunately, both "Pasty" Pete and Nigel Hornblower forgot to show up for the gig, so the album featured only vocals and keyboards. Later, Colin Porthorn would attempt to take credit for creating the whole Unplugged phenomenon, but he backed off of those claims after being informed that it had actually started 10 years earlier.

Split and Reunion
The band's next album was the surprising We're Actually Serious, Really, a sprawling set that found the band writing and playing with a heretofore unseen passion. It sold well, and seemed to indicate a bold new chapter in Refrigerated Love's history. But it was not to be. In 2000, after releasing just 34 albums, the band called it quits. The press release cited the pressures of being commercial recording artists and an intense personal dislike for one another as the primary reasons for the split.

In 2004, VH1 Bands Reunited unsuccessfully tried to reunite the band. However, it got the principals talking again, and soon a deal was struck for a reunion tour. They spent 2005 and 2006 on their "Warm-Up Farewell" and "Penultimate Farewell" tours, though the band did not release any new material. "Fans want to hear things they've already heard before, so that's what we'll give them. I'm just glad they've heard the old songs already, or we wouldn't have anything to play," said Hornblower in a 2006 interview.


Getting Litigious
In 2007 the band took up a lawsuit against "all stores that sell used CDs and records, Amazon Marketplace, eBay, and anyone who has ever sold a CD, LP, cassette or 8 Track at a garage sale." In a separate suit, the band also went after those who had dubbed copies of Refrigerated Love's music onto cassette tapes, either fully or as part of a mix. The band claimed that these dubbings and second-hand sales were negatively affecting the number of Refrigerated Love songs downloaded from Kazaa and Gnutella. They eventually won the lawsuit, though they lost most of their fans in the process.


"Creative" Renaissance
In the midst of 2008's "Say Farewell Again" tour, the band surprisingly announced a new album. No Expiration Date, which was released via send-off coupons, was a strong effort that found the band drinking from a new creative wellspring.  It spawned another collection the next year. Coming In was another cover album, this time focusing on songs by gay artists. It stiffed (pun intended, of course).


Dark Times
In 2010, Colin Porthorn appeared as a celebrity judge in the universally-reviled musical survival reality show Sing For Your Life. And though the show was swiftly cancelled, it did bring Porthorn some measure of renewed fame. His subsequent cash-in solo single, Show (Me) Your Passion, was a dismal failure, partly due to the odd punctuation, but mostly due to the awful autotuned chorus and depressing guest "rap" by Rivers Cuomo.



Not long after that, lyricist Elvis Hornman was fired. Rumors of bitter feuds between Hornman and the rest of the band members had simmered since the mid-'80s, most traced back to Hornman's penchant for indiscriminately eating food out of the tour bus refrigerator, impolitely ignoring clear shelf labels.
Apparently the boys had finally had enough. Hornman laid proprietary claim to the Refrigerated Love name and declared his intention to tour and record using the name and replacement musicians. Hornman lost the subsequent legal battle, and has been touring under the name "Elvis Hornman's Frozen Romance".

Christmas 2011, the band were unceremoniously dropped by their label, Polydor, with four albums still left on their contract. In a terse statement, the label said simply, "It's not us, it's them."

Like a Phoenix
The band regrouped and decided to release a new album label-less, but not lyric-less. After starting it as a scat project, the remaining band members wrote their own lyrics on 2011's Inmortality. The album, a typically diverse affair, has received a "Generally Unfavorable" composite score on Metacritic.com. The band plans to tour in the winter of 2011 and on into 2012. The jaunt has not been officially named yet, but fans are already referring to it as the "You Didn't Know You Missed Us" tour.





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