Firesign Theatre

Shoes for Industry! The Best of the Firesign Theatre

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In 1977, two years after dropping the Firesign Theatre from the label, Columbia Records attempted to summarize the comedy group's nine-album catalog on the two-LP set Forward into the Past (An Anthology). With the two-disc Shoes for Industry! The Best of the Firesign Theatre, which has the advantage of spreading out across two and a half hours, Sony's Legacy reissue division undertakes the same task for the CD era 16 years later. The dilemma faced by compilation producer Bob Irwin is the same one from 1977, however. The Firesign Theatre generally conceived its albums as albums, often with continuing themes and repeating bits, so excerpting them on a best-of is not easy. Irwin has the further difficulty that he seems to have been tasked (or to have tasked himself) with pulling at least something not only from each of the group's albums, but also from most of the spinoff LPs. (These include Philip Proctor and Peter Bergman's two duo albums TV or Not TV and What This Country Needs, as well as Philip Austin's Roller Maidens from Outer Space; there is nothing from David Ossman's How Time Flys.) In his liner notes, Steve Simels opines that the recordings went downhill after the third album, 1970's Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers, and quotes the group members in general agreement. Some fans may take issue with that, especially those who made 1971's I Think We're All Bozos on This Bus Firesign's highest-charting effort. But Irwin may agree, since he only includes "The Holygram's Song (Back from the Shadows Again)," a brief musical joke, and "The Breaking of the President" from Bozos, segments that only suggest the overall structure of the disc. Similarly, the one eight-and-a-half-minute piece from the 1973 album The Tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra, "Not Quite the Solution He Expected," only hints at the whole. Happily, the CD length allows for the inclusion of the complete 28 minutes of "The Further Adventures of Nick Danger" from the second album, 1969's How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You're Not Anywhere at All. And fans will appreciate the digital appearances of both sides of the 1969 single "Forward into the Past"/"Station Break." On the whole, though, they may feel that even with two CDs to work with, the job of capturing the magic of the Firesign Theatre's Columbia years onto one album is too hard. Neophytes probably would be better off starting with 1968's debut album, Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him, and going on from there.

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