SYNDICATE
Posted by: Dave on August 9, 2001 at 11:56 pm

When Firewater named their debut album Get Off the Cross (We Need the Wood for the Fire) in 1996, they announced their twisted sense of humor right on the cover. Seedy Middle Eastern romps, scandalous spy themes and gloomy blues riffs supported their dark satire throughout their debut and 1998’s The Ponzi Scheme. Although somewhat novel, their act was intriguing and difficult to ignore.

Now with their third LP Psychopharmacology, they’ve added even more lyrical gall, but lightened the tone. The music is often still raw and dirty, and vocalist Tod A’s gravelly delivery is intact. But catchy grooves and sing-along choruses make topics like contemplating suicide (“Fell Off The Face of the Earth”) and going postal (“The Man With The Blurry Face”) sound like a good time. With the tighter, poppier structure of the new Firewater, the bile they spew is often a wolf in sheep’s clothing. However, little veneer can cover up ideas like “God is great and God is good, but he’s also made of wood,” (“Psychopharmacology.”)

The downside to Firewater’s lighter sound is that it sometimes exposes the jokes that don’t work as well. Lines like “I could be a comedian, if I wasn’t such a joke.” and “I could train to be an astronaut, if I weren’t afraid of heights,” (“Get Out of My Head”) don’t have the same bite, especially with 60s surf drums and guitar creating a beach party backdrop. But the clever mockery of insurance scammers “sipping on an oxygen cocktail, with an ambulance chaser” (“Car Crash Collaborator”) makes up for such mistakes.

Despite the first half of the album being somewhat hit or miss, it finishes strongly. On the sultry duet “Bad, Bad World,” Jennifer Charles’ (Elysian Fields) breathy panting plays off Tod A.’s lecherous propositions as they decide that bad boys and bad girls belong together. And the last two tracks lilt along weightlessly, but for dramatically different reasons. “Black Box Recording” is an uncomfortably sarcastic, slow-motion portrait inside a plane on its way down, while “She’s the Mistake,” finds Tod A euphorically floating into love. The finale is the album’s only truly positive song.

It’s sad to see the exotic sounds of their first two releases disappear (except for the occasional spy guitar on the title track and the sitar on “Fell Off the Face of the Earth.”) But Psychopharmacology still has enough tongue-in-cheek headiness to keep Firewater in the forefront of dark musical comedy.

– Dave Powers
(As posted 8/9/01 on 3wk.com)



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