The Congress of Wonders

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Sophomoric Review

by Richie Unterberger

The appropriately titled Sophomoric was the second of the Congress of Wonders' comedy albums. Appropriate not only because it was the second album, but also because the humor was kind of sophomoric, if assembled and performed with some sophistication. Like their previous Revolting, it went into the territory explored with more acclaim by Firesign Theatre on record in the same era: jam-packed satirical sketches with barely a breath of pause, the members taking multiple and, at times, overlapping speaking parts, with well-placed sound effects added for good measure. Not as subtle and more sex-and-drugs-oriented than Firesign Theatre, its sketches satirized drug paranoia, political figureheads, and the health food craze. There was some blunt wit involved, but it's not as subtle as the best of this sort of thing should be, and now that the counterculture has become accustomed to this kind of subject matter in their comedy and popular culture, it doesn't sound as novel as it did when the LP came out. While much of the album was constructed in the studio, it ends with a surreal mini-drama, "Orpheelthis Unchained," performed in front of a live audience. That section testifies to their ability to maintain their rapid-fire assault outside of the studio, but isn't as tautly executed, and loses some depth in the interaction between the sonic elements. One excerpt from Apollo's report on what's happening in the United States, though, continued to ring true through the end of the century: "Everyone there worships some big goddess named paranoia."

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