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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Who Has a Fuzzbox 'coz I'm Gonna Need It?

(On the Postpunk Band that Had a Very Long Name)
by aLfie vera mella

Any Rock musician knows what a 'fuzzbox' is, but to the uninitiated, a fuzzbox is an accessory foot pedal used for the guitar to give it a fuzzy or distorted sound. And this is a befitting name for a band whose melodiously infectious music was always wrapped in a subtly fuzzy guitar sound.

In memory of Fuzzbox bass/guitar player Jo Dunne (November 1968October 2012)

My first introduction to the all-female band known as We've Got a Fuzzbox and We're Gonna Use It (Fuzzbox, for short) was in 1987, when the band's single "Rules and Regulations" was a regular staple on Rock-formatted Philippine FM radio stations like NU Rock 107 and Power BM 105. 

Any Filipino enthusiast of Postpunk music knows the song "Rules and Regulations" by We've Got a Fuzzbox and We're Gonna Use It, simply because it was a regular staple on Rock-formatted FM radio stations in the Philippines back in the late '80s.

The Music and the Look
More than anything, the very long name of this English Postpunk band was what initially drew me to them; and then their music as well as their sense of fashion in their early years. Because of how the members looked I regarded them as the female counterpart of Sigue Sigue Sputnik, another English Postpunk band.

The English Postpunk band Sigue Sigue Sputnik had most likely been an influence to the members of Fuzzbox in terms of physical aesthetics.

Other songs from Fuzzbox that I love are "Love Is the Slug," "What's the Point?", "Pink Sunshine," and their cover of the Norman Greenbaum original "Spirit in the Sky" (1969) and their a capella version of Queen’s "Bohemian Rhapsody" (1975).

Fuzzbox's "Bohemian Rhapsody" is to me the best and most imaginative cover version of this musically complicated song by the Progressive Rock band Queen.

To those who haven't heard it yet, click HERE for an MP3 copy of "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Fuzzbox.

Now, here's the original "Bohemian Rhapsody."

Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" may be regarded as one of the most popular Progressive Rock songs.

What set apart the music of Fuzzbox from that of many of their all-female contemporaries was their incorporation of other instruments to produce very textured compositions, as represented by the saxophone-accompanied single "What's the Point?"

The song "Spirit in the Sky," originally written and recorded in 1969 by Norman Greenbaum, is a commonly covered song; to me Fuzzbox's version (1986) is one of the best, along with those of Bauhaus (1983), Nina Hagen (1985), and Doctor & the Medics (1986).

The Beginning
Fuzzbox was formed in 1985 in Birmingham, England, by "Vix" Vickie Perks (vocals, violin), "Magz" Maggie Dunne (guitar, keyboards, percussion, violin, vocals), Jo Dunne (bass, guitar, drums, piano), and Tina O'Neill (drums, percussion, saxophone). The quartet was able to release two studio albums: Bostin' Steve Austin (1986), which was reissued in 1987 as a self-titled album; and Big Bang (1989).

We've Got a Fuzzbox and We're Gonna Use It released two studio albums: 1987's self-titled and 1989's Big Bang.

I've always regarded Fuzzbox as the female counterpart of the English Postpunk band Sigue Sigue Sputnik in terms of physical appearance.

The Rise
Armed with their solid self-titled album, Fuzzbox became commercially popular especially in the latter part of the 1980s—their music was a perfect bridge between the synthesizer-sounding guitars of Postpunk in the 1980s and the muddy distorted Grunge of the 1990s—instrumentally textured, subtly fuzzy guitar sound, infectious melodies, playful approach, and a sprinkle of feministic angst. Their music became more Pop-oriented in their second and last album, as highlighted by the singles "International Rescue," “Pink Sunshine,” and "Self," but the fuzzy element was still there.

"International Rescue," the first single off Fuzzbox's second and final album, Big Bang (1989); the fuzz may have been shed off the music of Fuzzbox, but to me it didn't matter; Fuzzbox's style remained within the boundaries of New Wave anyway. 

Despite the Pop-leaning aesthetics of the 1989 single "Pink Sunshine," the fuzzy element in the music of Fuzzbox remained.

Queen's guitar player Brian May guested on the studio recording of the Fuzzbox 1989 single "Self."

The final single, "Walking on Thin Ice," off Fuzzbox's second and last album, Big Bang, is certainly very distant already from the fuzzy musical beginnings of the band.

The Fall
Because of the commercial breakthrough of the Pop-oriented album Big Bang, Fuzzbox immediately entered the studio to work on their third album, entitled Out of This World, releasing the single "Your Loss, My Gain"; but even before finishing the project, in 1990 they disbanded apparently due to musical differences.

"Your Loss, My Gain," a single off Fuzzbox's started-but-never-finished third album in 1990, and then they disbanded.

The Last Hurrah
In 2010, Fuzzbox reunited as a quintet, minus original drummer O'Neill but with the addition of bass player Sarah Firebrand and drummer Karen Milne, releasing a cover of "Pop Muzik" by M, only to disband again in the following year after a few live performances.

Fuzzbox's comeback single in 2010 and eventual swansong, a cover of M's 1979 single "Pop Muzik"

Final Note
This article about Fuzzbox is dedicated to the memory of its bass/guitar player Jo Dunne, who died on October 26, 2012, after a battle with cancer. She was 43.

“Rules and Regulations” is perhaps Fuzzbox's most-known song, but my personal favorite remains to be “Love Is the Slug.”


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