For a truly singular musical experience, this 2003 record, ‘The Man on the Burning Tightrope’, from the bizarre band, Firewater, should be more than capable of keeping even the most adventurous of listeners guessing what is coming next. Firewater, what are they? Well, among a list of eccentric labels they’ve received over the course of their history, they’ve been described as gypsy punk. When you really listen intently to this record, though, it’s quite clear that the influence of cabaret can’t afford to be ignored. The images that this record paint, it’s interesting to note, are one of a sadistic carnival. A sadistic carnival that, as is prevalent in most cabaret-inspired phenomena, has its ups and downs in terms of the emotion riding throughout the record.
The opening instrumental piece, “Fanfare”, which clocks in at just over 20 seconds, perfectly sets the pretext for the duration of this record. This opening piece feeds right into the following track, “Anything at All”, which fully fuels the images that were hinted upon in the instrumental prelude. One of the undisputed highlights of the record is “Dark Days Indeed”, which easily paints the image of a carnival barker addressing a crowd to relay some unfortunate news. This track is followed by what is without a doubt the absolute best track on this record, the title track. This track is the culmination of this record’s powers fully realized; it’s creepy, suspenseful, spine-tingling, oddly humorous. This track evokes the influence of theatrical artists like Alice Cooper, Arthur Brown, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and filters it through the attitude of, what is predominantly, perhaps oddly enough, ska. The band also prove that they’re more than capable of presenting highly emotional material in the form of the quasi-love ballad, “Secrets”, further presenting the overall versatility of the band. From this point on, the band go on to further cement their vision on the second half of the record. If the first half built it, the second half expanded it. Tracks like “Ponzi’s Revenge” and “The Notorious & Legendary Dog & Pony Show” are able to stretch the reach of the cabaret-influence to their seeming limits. In their own little corner of the musical climate, these songs paint their own culture of belonging in what is seemingly a desperate cry for separation from the masses.
There is no shortage of awe-inspiring intrigue scattered throughout this singular record. The only real complaint one could dig up about this record is that it goes on for too long. 16 tracks seems a bit much by the time you reach the end of the record. With that said, though, this record does a mostly triumphant job of keeping the material fresh and fun. In fact, in terms of sheer fun, this record is a hard act to follow. It’s also, in many ways, a record that is a diamond in the rough; a virtually hidden, under the radar release that showcases a fine effort in capturing some of the brightest aspects of the 21st century underground music scene. Whether it was the band’s intention to create such a singular piece of work or whether it was little more than a happy accident, the fact that this record sounds like little else that has ever been recorded will forever (hopefully) go on to be this record’s well-deserved legacy.