Underground and Overhead: The Alternative Fire

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Fire were around for several years and managed to issue a couple singles and an album, but those releases were not wholly representative of the band's entire repertoire. This 20-track CD does much to fill in the gaps, dominated as it is by 1967-1969 unreleased recordings, as well as featuring both sides of their 1968 single "Father's Name Is Dad"/"Treacle Toffee World." (Their second and last single, "Round the Gum Tree"/"Toothie Ruthie," is not included; the band didn't play on it anyway, though Dave Lambert sang on the A-side.) This shouldn't quite be judged as a missing Fire album; apart from it being recorded over a fairly long period of time and three of the songs getting re-recorded for their 1970 LP (The Magic Shoemaker), much of the material obviously would have benefited from considerable polish had it been prepared for official studio release. Much of it shows a heavy influence from the best British mid- to late-'60s bands that both rocked hard and sang harmonies: the Who, the Move, and the Kinks. Those are good influences to have, and Fire absorb them more credibly than many of their peers. "I've Still Got Time," though not the most sophisticated of these efforts, quite accurately mimics circa 1966-1967 Pete Townshend-sung Who recordings in some respects, while "Happy Sound" sounds just a bit like early Marc Bolan. But they don't match those groups' songwriting talents or combine the influences into anything nearly as original, though much of it bounces along amiably. A few tracks show them breaking off into harder rock-influenced directions and stretching out into much longer songs (including a ten-minute opera of sorts, "Alison Wonderland") with less satisfying and occasionally overwrought results. As Fire were one of those bands that were above average as obscure groups went but not nearly as interesting as the top British acts of their time (though "Father's Name Is Dad"/"Treacle Toffee World" is decent in its early Move-lite way), overall this is a compilation for deep '60s British rock collectors who want to fill in the cracks.

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