Friday, June 06, 2008

173. Refrigerated Love: We're Actually Serious, Really (1999)

Reviewer's Note: I've dusted off this old review that appeared in the April 1999 edition of the Augustana Observer in anticipation of the new Refrigerated Love album due later this month. For more information, read the brief history of the band I wrote a few years back.

When Refrigerated Love first stepped onto the rock and roll scene in 1981, you would have been hard-pressed to find anyone who really cared. Today, eighteen years and 34 albums later that apathy is still holding strong. Earlier this year, the seminal British band released a live album called Songs From our Next Album - Live. The record wasn't a commercial success, mainly because of the fans' unfamiliarity with the songs, and the fact that drummer "Pasty" Pete Pockhorn and lead guitarist Nigel Hornblower failed to show up for the gig.

Now, with the full band in tow, that next album has finally arrived. Entitled We're Actually Serious, Really, the album is a decided musical growth for the band. Gone are sophomoric song titles like Godzilla's Got Gonorrhea (from 1984's Monster Mashers) and Take Off Those Pants (from 1992's Songs for the Year 1996) and banal lyrics like "I saw you standing next to that tree baby/ and how I wished that tree was me lady" (1982's Sequoias of your Heart) We're Actually Serious, Really features a number of acoustic ballads, a 12-minute epic with strings, and even a duet between lead singer Colin Porthorn and Canadian diva Celine Dion. There is the requisite rocker or two, but the guitars have acquired a Big Star-ian jangle and the lyrics are surprisingly adult, with an almost Dylan-esqe weightiness.

Take the double-guitar attack of I'll Get Home Three Days After Tomorrow at About Ten O'Clock But No Later Than One On The Following Day, a concise and emotional country rock song. In it, lyricist Elvis Hornman imagines a semi-truck driver radioing ahead to his wife: "As I sit here in this weigh station/ I'm thinking of you and feeling jubilation." Porthorn's raspy choirboy voice imbues the song with a Roy Orbison type swagger. Equally impressive is the sure-to-go-number-one power ballad Love you Like a Cardboard Box which is like an Elton John song sung by Perry Como.

There's also a heart-breaking tribute to the band's tambourine player Ricky Hornblatt, who died last year when he was electrocuted trying to learn guitar in the tub. Entitled Shake That Thing One More Time, Ricky, the song takes the form of a 1970's Beach Boys' mini-opera, replete with soaring harmonies and nonsensical spoken word verses.

Other highlights include the Bob Marley-inspired Found Salvation in a Cereal Box which recounts guitarist Hornblower's brief flirtation with religion, and I'm Sick of Your Sh*t a lilting classical guitar number Porthorn wrote for his grandmother.

Happily, keyboardist Hornel Lieberman also contributes a song, the thoughtful glockenspiel-driven New Pair of Sneakers and does the vocals himself (he sounds like he's channeling Never Let Me Down-era David Bowie). It reminds this reviewer of 1990, when all the Refrigerated Lovers released solo albums. Lieberman's A Warm Bowl of Chili has been an overlooked favorite of this critic for years.

Critics haven't always been fond of these cheeky lads from the UK. When the group started as a retro-folk duo called The Coldsmen they were consistently booed off stage. When their 6th album, 1987's Heart Like a Flying Car went seven times platinum on the strength of the number one hits Inside, Outside, Upside Down and I Am the Robot, the critical backlash was considerable. I myself likened their 16th album, 1988's Zappa-inspired Have We Lost Our Minds, Yes We Have, to a "piece of hardened dog feces." But times have changed. Refrigerated Love have gone through all the cliches of rock and roll: They've released a plethora of truly bad albums, lost members to death, broken up, spent all their money on cocaine, been sued several times, raised the ire of conservative Christians, and advertised for Pepsi. Now that it's all behind them, they've finally decided to focus on the most important part of being in a band: their haircuts.

Grade: A-
Fave Song: New Pair of Sneakers

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