In a season of pleasant musical finds, one that has taken me unawares has been the discovery of this incredibly rich collection of Demos, Out-takes and Rarities from the charged power pop quartet Fuzzbubble. This is Redd Kross meets Jellyfish meets Cheap Trick, and I'm not kidding -- those reference points, while not fully encompassing, manage to give you a precise idea of these sounds.
Once upon a time, our heroes had the distinction of being the only rock band signed to P. Diddy's Bad Boy Records, but in typical major label fashion, they were teased and taunted and messed with before ultimately being dumped. Since that parting of the ways occurred before their debut was released, Fuzzbubble was out of luck. However in 2000, that self-titled debut album finally saw the light of day (on Orchard Records), featuring 10 nifty songs with power and polish to spare.
Thankfully, those 10 songs (11, if you count the hidden track) are not the entire creative output of Fuzzbubble, and now, thanks to the good folks at Not Lame, we get sixteen new songs as expanded repertoire. But don't be fooled by the misleading title -- when one hears "demos, out-takes and rarities", there's a feeling of second-rate material that didn't make the cut for legitimate reasons. Not this, not here, not now. What's even better news is the sheer astounding quality of these songs -- there's honestly not a bad one in the whole lot.
I'm not fooling -- this is an aural treat. Jim Bacchi (the man who also is the creative fuel behind the light pop of Teen Machine) is a multi-talented songsmith who really knows how to craft hook-filled melodies. That's not to mention his impressive guitar skills. With Fuzzbubble, he surrounds himself with musicians who bring power to the pop and animate those songs in a big way -- Mark DiCarlo on lead vocals and guitar, Brett Rothfeld on bass, and Jason Camiolo on drums and vocals (though Kevin Kelly drums on the three tracks from 1994-1995). Believe it or not, those early tracks were the first ones Bacchi ever recorded as an engineer.
"Allison Gray" is a catchy upbeat number about an imaginary friend, done in the style of Bellybutton-era Jellyfish (Bacchi and DiCarlo readily admit this is the sound they were trying to emulate). In "Waiting for Someone", that influence is even more pronounced, and what Fuzzbubble manages to achieve will appeal to Jellyfish fans with the impressive lead vocals (DiCarlo as Sturmer), backing harmonies, and song structure. "Dragonfly" is a bit harder edged, with riveting emotionally driven vocals and again, an apparent Jellyfish nod or three within the song.
The next batch of four songs, featuring production help from Mike Clink, was recorded at the same time as the debut album, during 1997-1998. Because the group only wanted ten songs on the first disc, these were the most logical choices to be included on the eventual follow-up. "Rockstar Parking" was going to be the title track of that hypothetical record, but at the time, the group didn't feel this recording captured the energy of the song in live performance. Hindsight shows this not to be the case -- it's a good song about the hopes of a certain lifestyle ("I'm special") delivered with the kind of guitar power that was all over the debut CD.
"Alien" is another winner, largely due to the great vocal performance from DiCarlo and backing vocals from Roger Manning, Jr. This complex song shift gears midway, then slips back to the Jellyfish-like refrain. Manning adds some Moog Cookbook-like vocoder and synthesizers to "Roboteen" while a steady cowbell drives most of the song forward, and Susanna Hoffs lends her mellifluous tones to the backup vox on the far-too infectious anthem-rocker "Magpie".
The next batch of songs was recorded at the end of 1995 and featured production/mixing help from the late Eddie Kurdziel (Redd Kross). Again, Kevin Kelly contributes on the drums and Bacchi handles bass as well. "My Dysfunctional Life" has a Joe Jackson "Is She Really Going out with Him"-guitar vibe to the verses, though it remains a true Fuzzbubble original. Finally captured on disc is the charismatic rocker "Sellout", usually the opening number for the boys at live shows. This song alone is proof that guitar-driven power pop still thrives.
"Same Time, Same Place" is a rare Mark DiCarlo composition and manages to hold its own with the Bacchi songs around it. "Cult Stars from Mars" is very Redd Kross with a bit of Wings "Venus and Mars/Rock Star" thrown into the mix (Bacchi admits he was going for a Live and Let Die sort of thing): strong guitar, nice harmonies, and fun tempo changes.
Even more of a Redd Kross feel can be found on "Bummin' Around" from sessions recorded in March of 1997, with more great DiCarlo vocals. Fans of the early Beatles sound will marvel over "Happy Now", an incredible Bacchi composition that would work well in that Britpop context; he claims he was after a Dave Clark Five thing, but it's the same difference. Take note of how well Jason Camiolo does Ringo on this one, and also mark his work on "Bittersweet Tragedy", where the slower tempo allows the beat space enough to take its place alongside the guitars and vocals.
"My Side" was from the first session where the four Fuzzbubble members recorded as a band, though that seems hard to believe when you hear it). Again, there is a large Beatles influence to this song, Revolver-like guitars and "Rain"-like bass lines.
At just under seven minutes, the three-songs-in-one closing medley shows more of how tightly these four work as a musical unit. Great changes, wonderful bass lines from Brett Rothfeld, and the signature harmonies, vocals and guitars from DiCarlo and Bacchi. It really does make you wonder what they've been doing for the past five years, and why they aren't better known.
Pick any track from this ample collection and it could be a radio-ready single. While on the whole less raucous than the fare on their debut (with guitars not polished to the same level of crunch), this collection gives an even better exposure to the skills of the individual band members and the melodic songwriting talents of Jim Bacchi. I defy you not to sing along. Fuzzbubble are a too well kept secret; one hopes Demos, Out-Takes and Rarities will change that.
Fans of Jellyfish, Cheap Trick, and Redd Kross take note. The kind of exciting melodic power pop you thought was gone still lives. Fuzzbubble gives you sixteen tracks as emphatic proof here -- now please spread the word.