The Firesign Theatre
Boom Dot Bust
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Like radio terrorists simultaneously infatuated with Dada, the Marx Brothers, science fiction, and Surrealist wordplay, the Firesign Theatre spent the better part of the Sixties and Seventies skewering pop culture and redefining the concept of the comedy album. At its creative zenith, the quartet of Phil Austin, Peter Bergman, Phil Proctor, and David Ossman crafted dense, detail-packed masterpieces that lampooned nearly everything and catalogued the Theatre's myriad obsessions -- from Thirties and Forties radio shows to aliens, consumerism, television, politics, and James Joyce. Only mildly dated, and often unsettlingly prophetic, the Theatre's best work (1970's Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers, 1974's Everything You Know Is Wrong, and In the Next World, You're On Your Own from 1975) continues to reveal new sonic elements with every listen (something you can't say about the comedic recorded efforts of, oh, say -- Cheech and Chong? Steve Martin?).
Oddly the troupe floundered in the Eighties, with feeble jokes, inane plots, and political potshots that more often than not missed the mark (a tragic sign considering Reagan was in office). The Nineties were a bit kinder to the Theatre, with the '98 album Give Me Immortality or Give Me Death earning a Grammy nomination and containing occasional flashes of the brilliance of yore. The new Boom Dot Bust is, for the most part, more of the same. Although the title suggests a savage take on the Internet, Bust instead chronicles the goings-on in Billville ("It's not just a bump, it's a bump with a name!"), a tornado-ravaged Midwestern burg driven to bankruptcy by its corrupt, telepathic mayor William C. P'Nisnose, who's trying to save his ass from the angry citizens of nearby Elmertown. Along the way you get sendups of FM disc jockeys, sports, televangelists, and movie sequels, bizarro weather reports, bureaucratic subterfuge, and a slew of commercials, sound effects, and catch phrases ("Shift your organs!").
Like its vintage stuff, Firesign's latest is impossible to digest in five, ten, even twenty listens. It's funny as hell in spots, spotty in others, and never less than interesting. (What in the world is a "Johnnycup"?) Is Boom Dot Bust a masterpiece? Not really. A return to form? Pretty much, but it's hard to be certain. Whatever the case it's nice to have 'em back. -- John Floyd