09-29-97 14:40 EST 124 Lines.
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"Moxy Fruvous blends past releases for USA"; USA Today On-Line, 10/3/97

Making music at the crossroads of irreverence and responsibility


AP National Writer

NEW YORK (AP) Take a dash of Ogden Nash. Add a smear of Edward Lear. Toss in a Beatles news conference circa 1964, a sprinkle of Elvis Costello, four media-saturated childhoods and a splash of Monty Python. Garnish with a deep sense of concern about the world. Cultivate in Canada. Mix well.

Voila ... Moxy Fruvous!

Moxy Whatous?

Odds are you've never heard of the four unusual guys from Ontario who make up what is decidedly not a novelty band, though novel it is. The Fruvous fare: an exuberant blend of dead-on parody, social commentary and gentle lament at the state of the world today tempered with a healthy dose of it'll-turn-out-OK idealism.

You don't hear many rock groups talking about Canada's "Thatcheristic government'' or doing horrendous Gordon Lightfoot imitations. Then again, not many Canadian bands with little U.S. publicity draw a faithful core of American fans who travel from show to show, dub themselves "Fruheads'' and know the words to some very complex songs.

"There's an audience out there that's been talked down to for too many years,'' says Jian (JEE-uhn) Ghomeshi, a gentle-voiced 30-year-old with flowing black locks and a wide grin.

"There's so much about current music that's about being dark and depressed,'' he says. "We are none of those things.''

Moxy Fruvous (the band insists the name means nothing, then churns forth with sundry spurious definitions) started busking on Toronto's streets in 1990 with a grab-attention style it sustains today in catchy a cappellas and the unexpected rhymes that are a source of band competition.

"The guy with the cleverest lyrics wins,'' says David Matheson, 31, a puckish blond. In concert, he dons bizarro crown and robe for an oddball ballad called "King of Spain,'' about a monarch who abandons the throne to do odd jobs in Canada ("a palatial palace, that was my home ... now I vacuum the turf at Skydome'').

Indeed, this band is afflicted with a linguistic mania. They finish each other's sentences, spew Beatlean puns and free-associate continuously, treading in an ocean of mass-media trivia.

In short: There's a very thin fire wall between conversation and song.

"We're constantly walking the line between making sense and `Stop Making Sense,' '' Ghomeshi says, and the others laugh either at his pun or at the comparison to Talking Heads. And, like David Byrne's, Fruvous' lyrics crackle with intelligence and playfulness, whether in fun, seriousness or both.

Take this passage in "The Kids' Song'':

"The markers that I just got are nontoxic
"and my sister says the lake is quite dioxic.
"I don't know what these words mean;
"I just want to play where it's clean.
"But something in the backyard made my dog sick.''

Or "My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors,'' which features the inimitable line, "Now I'm pounding the Ouzo ... with Mario Puzo.''

They've sung about talk TV ("a pleasure cruise on an ocean of hard issues''), rhymed "walked into that kitchen'' with "Solzhenitsyn,'' done a rap version of Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham'' and suggested that, if Rush Limbaugh's popularity endures, "hundreds of years from now, they'll celebrate Rushmas and Rush Hashana for the Jews.''

"We really like a theme park of an album a sampler, a variety, a roller-coaster ride,'' says Mike Ford, at 34 the oldest of the quartet. And Fruvous albums have been just that enticing hodgepodges full of America-watching observational humor and decidedly Canadian sensibilities.

The first CD, "Bargainville'' (1993), is heavy on both sarcasm and sincere environmentalism, touching on mall video stores, labor issues in the auto industry and being "stuck in the '90s again'' (which, in another tongue-twisting triumph, rhymes "tell the world it's your lackey'' with "Abbie Hoffman was wacky'').

A subsequent CD, "Wood,'' not released in the United States, is more serious and introspective, filled with images of beautiful lament, lost dreams, directionlessness and lines like, "Look straight at the coming disaster ... realize what you've lost.'' A third album, "B,'' a collection of outtake songs, is genius from the first track, "I Love My Boss'' ("`Bewitched' would have an empty plate, if it weren't for Larry Tate'').

The newest album, called "You Will Go to the Moon,'' released in the United States under a new label, is a synthesis. It offers up the serious and the inane side by side, sometimes in the same song.

"The Incredible Medicine Show,'' for instance, pokes straight-faced fun at plastic surgery. And the harmonized title track, played for the space shuttle astronauts one recent morning, postulates an eventual civilization on Earth's "orbiting Rondele.''

But where Moxy Fruvous really shines is in its live shows, which draw hundreds of fans to music festivals and large clubs, where they sing along with even the most intricate words. Who are these Fruheads?

"We're a bunch of geeks, and so is our audience,'' Ford says. "We like that. If you're not a geek, don't come to the show.''

Murray Foster, 30, the most unrepentant punster of the group, appreciates an audience that can pick up in-jokes, whether the "in'' is cultural, political or simply about the band, which revels in self-reference.

"Pop music has become a lot more superficial in the last ... what was 1980? Oh, the last 17 years. There's not a lot of context,'' Foster says. Adds Ghomeshi: "Our fans see us as guys who have a legitimate perspective.''

Thus Moxy Fruvous' one immutable imperative, something any high-school teacher would appreciate: Have great fun and learn about the world along the way.

"We have to sing about these things. If we didn't sing about them, we wouldn't be putting in our two cents' worth,'' Ford says.

"That's eight cents between the four of us,'' he adds quickly. "American cents. Not Canadian cents.''

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