Firewater – The Man on the Burning Tightrope

The Man on the Burning Tightrope

The Man on the Burning Tightrope is the fourth release from Firewater, a hard-to-categorize band fronted by former Cop Shoot Cop lead singer Tod A. Other band members have played with the likes of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Soul Coughing, and Jesus Lizard.
The album itself is an eclectic mix of, well, almost every instrument under the sun. Don’t be surprised to hear an organ grinder jamming with a trumpet atop some Celtic-tinged fiddles. Unfortunately, the very eclecticism that could make the disc fascinating is also its downfall. Without any sort of real focus, the music lacks cohesion, and often the basics of a good song seem to be neglected in favor the “everything including the kitchen sink” recording approach.
“Anything at All,” the first real track on the album, starts out promising until the lyrics fall into a rut of corny and repetitive similes that seem never-ending: “If I was a prison I would hide you in my walls / If I was an angel I would catch you when you fall / If I was…” and so on, ad nauseam, with some stuff about singing for the angels in heaven inserted for chorus purposes.
“Too Much (Is Never Enough)” blatantly borrows the main riff from Smashmouth’s “The Way That You Are,” and Tod A.’s scratchy vocal style doesn’t help ease the obvious comparison; sadly, even with so many similarities the track still manages to lose all the magic that made the original a hit. Several songs, including “Too Many Angels” and “The Man on the Burning Tightrope,” make use of that old psycho-circus-organ-grinder backdrop that has been used to better effect in the past by folks like Tom Waits, and even Cracker on their Gentleman’s Blues album. “Dark Days Indeed” brings in Latin rhythms and combines them with saxophones and accordions. I applaud the originality and experimentation, but once again, the song fails to engage.
I like what Firewater is trying to do. There’s lots of originality and variety here, and the mood is intriguingly strange and dark. Every single musician on this disc is highly talented and the playing is superb – but the end result isn’t. I really wanted to like this album, but I don’t. To me, the songs are simply too self-consciously eclectic to work. I find myself too busy listening for the next weird instrument combo or intentionally strange lyric to ever lose myself in the music. Without a clear direction or rock-solid songs, The Man on the Burning Tightrope bogs down in its own ambition. Maybe next time.