Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Firesign Theatre

  • How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere At All [Columbia, 1969] A+
  • Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers [Columbia, 1970] A+
  • I Think We're All Bozos on This Bus [Columbia, 1971] B-
  • Everything You Know Is Wrong [Columbia, 1974] A-
  • Just Folks . . . A Firesign Chat [Butterfly, 1977] B-
  • Shoes for Industry! The Best of the Firesign Theatre [Columbia/Legacy, 1993] A
  • Boom Dot Bust [Rhino, 1999] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere At All [Columbia, 1969]
This is the only comedy record (except for Tuli Kupferberg's Pop Poems) that I can imagine myself buying. Unlike Firesign's puerile first album, this is close to a work of genius, great high or straight but especially high. Listen to the Nick Danger side first; the title side is so far out it lacks credibility alone. A+

Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers [Columbia, 1970]
The Firesign Theatre is a comedy group that uses the recording studio at least as brilliantly as any rock group, and there's really nothing else to say, except that they'd be scary-funny in somebody's living room, too. A+

I Think We're All Bozos on This Bus [Columbia, 1971]
This is everything you would expect from the Firesign Theatre except funny, which is something like saying the Stones had a great session only Bill and Charlie stayed home. B-

Everything You Know Is Wrong [Columbia, 1974]
Firesign's sci-fi schtick doesn't seem as revelatory in 1974 as it did in 1970, but this relatively lightweight piece about the end of the world is not only clever but honestly conceived--as coherent as there is any reason to expect, with enough laughs, verbal and aural, to justify its classification as comedy. A-

Just Folks . . . A Firesign Chat [Butterfly, 1977]
It's a good year when the grand old men of head comedy release two albums (including Forward Into the Past, a skillfully reedited twofer best-of on Columbia) and Cheech & Chong release none (yet, and let's hope). This LP concentrates on what Firesign does best--turning tolerant radio chitchat into a horror show. But the edge is off their discovery--the details change but the perception itself seems stagnant. For followers only. B-

Shoes for Industry! The Best of the Firesign Theatre [Columbia/Legacy, 1993]
Not music, but over and above the jingles and anthems and everyone-knew-her-as-Nancy, so studio-savvy it's impossible to imagine without music--and even more impossible to imagine without radio, which furnished form and sometimes forum for these earplays, talk shows, and commercials from Bizarroworld. Targeting the bland cruelty and rapacious cowardice of life in these United States after we lost World War II, they attacked with a merciless vulgarity that was itself unmistakably American, spouting puns and accents like the surrealist tummlers and lapsed English majors they were. Although few '60s groups better grasped the concept-album concept, their longforms excerpt cleanly. This two-CD set highlights their 1969 and 1970 masterpieces and picks up the right pieces thereafter. Proof that not all hippies were flower children, and that prolonged cannabis exposure need not lower one's political awareness or raw IQ. A

Boom Dot Bust [Rhino, 1999]
"Everybody has one or two great thoughts and mine was simple--we're all doomed," reveals Nixon soundalike Dr. Guillermo Infermo, who adds a second: "Just because you're surrounded by evil doesn't mean you can't make some money from it." On their dead-in-the-concept Y2K comeback, the grand masters of pothead sound-effect comedy flirted with both canards; here they make fun of them, which doesn't mean they're bullish on America or donating royalties to Earth First! Their signature studio-layered cross-referentiality evokes a time-warped Middle American town on the edge of a tornado preserve where Dumber eventually prevails over Dumb. Before that happy ending they address such excellent paranoid themes as online investment, superglue, and that old reliable, the weather. A-

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