Firewater is ex-Cop Shoot Cop’s bass player Tod A's band. The Man on the Burning Tightrope is already his fourth effort. I first listened to Firewater at the time when Get Off the Cross… came out because I was a Jesus Lizard fan and Duane Denison recorded some guitar parts for Firewater. Disappointment quickly took possession of me. I had an interview with Jesus Lizard’s impressing guitarist who confessed that he recorded for Firewater because ‘Tod is a nice guy and because he pays well.’ It was out of mere curiosity that I popped The Man on the Burning Tightrope in my cd player but I’m glad I did because it became the soundtrack to my languid, introspective yet cultural summer.
I have to specify that you have either to ignore Tom Waits’ existence or to get really intimate with Firewater to consider that Tod A. is not just a meaningless epigone and to appreciate this strange album. Indeed, from his raucous, nicotine-inhaling, disillusioned voice to his partiality towards dusty circus music and twisted, half-drunk polkas, the man directly reminds you of your favourite Blue Valentine crooner. You sure have to give the album a few shots to get past its obvious patriarchal signs, to fully enjoy it for its singular qualities.
The title and the nice artwork directly point at the circus thematic. I have never liked circus since I was a child. Animals and clowns have never amused me. Call me cynical but I find nothing else but triviality there. I would only go under the big top if I needed to get back to reality. In The Man on the Burning Tightrope, only two tracks –both excellent- strongly evoke circus entertainment (the title track and ‘The Notorious & Legendary Dog & Pony Show’) but they are twisted, sinister, dusty circus songs whose spirit is close to Tom Waits, Freaks or this Sirkian hero half-drunk and lost amongst masks (compared to ‘El borracho’ from Ponzi’s Scheme for example which was almost real circus music). The burning tightrope reference is much more a metaphor which is to be applied to life. Yes, some people take chances and live their lives like the man on the burning tightrope…
How can you rate your level of intimacy with an album ?? I’d need to write a book to answer this question. But a Pogues influence sure is a problem. Tod A. got rid of this influence which was regularly embarrassing in Ponzi’s Scheme. Fortunately, a nice groovy Morphine-esque touch still comes in handy. The openers ‘Anything At All’ and ‘Too Much Is Never Enough’ make you feel like snapping your fingers and having a quick south-American dance despite their inescapable sadness. ‘I would give you everything I had if I had anything at all’ / ‘You tell yourself that you’re going to make a new start but you know you lie, you can’t believe the things you tell yourself anymore’. It’s all make-believe and failure. Discrepancy between the music and the lyrics, I love that. I love this gap. You’re sad but you’d like to have fun anyway. You fill in the song’s gap because that’s where relies its true meaning. And this is often where a part of your mind lies as well…
Sometimes Tod A. puts away his eccentric circus outfit, plays the sad guitar on his own to let his feelings break out. These songs offer a perfect balance to the lively ones. And he understood that sometimes simple straightforward words are better than carefully crafted poems because it becomes easier for everyone to identify with. These humble, universal lines convey a humanizing feeling in a world where everything seems to go astray. ‘I’ve got a secret inside of me and no one can take that away’ weeps the lonely singer in the beginning of ‘Secret’. ‘I want to thank you for the song that saved my life tonight’ are the only lyrics in ‘The Song That Saved My Life’…
The Man on the Burning Tightrope is one of my favourite records released this year so far.
-SEB ‘uprooted again’ WOOd.
/oct 1st 2004/