Not so much a theater of the absurd as a carnival of the ridiculous, The Man on the Burning Tightrope finds Firewater continuing in the vein of their previous albums, although calling the phrase "business as usual" does a disservice to its distinctly unusual results. With each release, Tod A. and company grow more and more eclectic, and The Man on the Burning Tightrope is no exception. Beginning with "Fanfare," it's apparent that Firewater have embraced the music of the circus, adding dramatic drum rolls that suggest trapeze artists swinging through the air as well as the titular tightrope walker; "Too Many Angels"' eerie pipe organs and xylophones sound like a carnival after hours; and the reprises of early songs at the end of the album add to its revue-like feel. This tragicomic mix of circus and cabaret, coupled with the band's typically sardonic, world-weary rock, makes The Man on the Burning Tightrope Firewater's most atmospheric album to date. While this softens the blow of their music and A.'s lyrics somewhat, their impact is still impressive: "Anything At All"'s Latin-inspired beat sounds relatively upbeat, but its acidic guitars and sentiments like "All over the world/winners are cheating/losers are weeping/they take anything at all" are anything but. Conversely, "Dark Days Indeed" begins as a sneering tango and ends up as a party ("It's hard to dance when you're down upon your knees"), while "The Truth Hurts"' answering machine message moves from funny to scary to sad. The Man on the Burning Tightrope's balance grows a little precarious by the album's second half; while detours into country ("Secret") and lounge and hot jazz ("The Vegas Strip") keep things interesting, the album begins to feel a little long and flat by the time songs like "Don't Make It Stop" roll around. Indeed, while the most conventionally rock songs on the album are quite good, the tracks that deliver on The Man on the Burning Tightrope's theatrical side are arguably the best. The title track, the aforementioned "Too Many Angels," and "The Notorious & Legendary Dog & Pony Show" boast equal amounts of sarcasm and showmanship, a mix that suits these pointed vignettes of the world's increasing absurdity perfectly. So, while not all of the album is executed with the greatest of ease, the skill and wit Firewater bring to The Man on the Burning Tightrope still make it a compelling album.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares