FIrewater CD review [Jetset]

Music Reviews
FIrewater CD review [Jetset]
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Jun 17, 2003, 03:44

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FIREWATER The Man on the Burning Tightrope CD

Tod Ashley is losing it. After achieving with Cop Shoot Cop what many musicians only ache to—i.e., realizing and refining a distinctive personal voice—he then quit to form Firewater and throw it all away in the name of stylistic pastiches: rumpot klezmer, cheeky spy jazz, sideways tango stomps, tent-revival parodies, etc. Sure, CSC-era Ashley was always a lyrical blend of gutter poets like Bukowski, Thirlwell, Selby, Algren, etc., but it was no mere composite mask; the influences felt absorbed more than simply regurgitated. Each new Firewater album, however, finds Ashley falling further from his idiosyncratic modes of expression and into cliché and copycat habits. Case in point: The Man on the Burning Tightrope, which sees Tod shamelessly aping the arrangements of Tom Waits, The Beatles, Gogol Bordello, Pink Floyd's Gilbert & Sullivanesque “The Trial,” and others who twisted circus music, showtunes, and drunken gypsy chants into memorable songs. Ashley, alas, doesn't have the polymelodic pop smarts of Lennon & McCartney, nor does he seem able to muster the gruffness required to makes these cynically playful songs seem as tough as he once could. Only the slow heartbreak ballads “Too Many Angels” and “The Song That Saved My Life” have a convincingly legitimate emotional core burning underneath the decorative flourishes. The rest feels like Vegas fakery, more clever than genuine. Too often this album—even more than the past few Firewater discs—comes across as a mere exercise in genre-theft, a way for Tod to cheaply fingerpaint his increasingly false-tongued words onto someone else's pictures. He probably considers it a form of expansive musical maturity. I, on the other hand, see it as a dishonest forgery by a once-admirable talent who's now perhaps best left behind in the same dumpster where, ironically, Ashley's best work first originated. [Jetset]

-J Graham

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