Eat Or Be Eaten (1985)|
Review from Benway's House of Firesign
"Eat Or Be Eaten" is the final Firesign record, released in the late '80s, before their 12 year hiatus (broken by the brilliant "Give Me Immortality Or Give Me Death!"). David Ossman had left the group and it didn't seem as if there was much of a place for the Firesign in the conservative climate of the Reagan years. But, still they trudged on, trying (as on every album) to make sense of it all, to waning interest. In a seeming attempt to "keep up with the times," the framing device of this album is a character stuck in an interactive videogame. Though it's a unique device, it really isn't any different from switching around the television - after all, a screen is a screen, right? It dates the album somewhat, even though (as always) the Firesign was ahead of it's time - virtual reality video games being in their infancy when the album was released. But, make no mistake - this is only a video game and, along with the appearance of Laura Quinn on an MTV take-off, makes this effort very much a product of the '80s.
The group is still trying hard, though... maybe a bit too hard. As stated before, it sounds as if the group is trying so hard to be contemporary, they neglect to find humor in the loftier concepts they sometimes explore (politics, religion, generation gaps, science). Perhaps this has something to do with Ossman's absence, coupled with the desire to go for (somewhat) shallower belly laughs at the expense of being thoughtful. The most successful moments are their commercial parodies, which seemingly never fail. "The National Toilet," "Shoplifters' Markets," and Art Snob's "Discount Art Warehouse" are all very funny, quick pieces. There are several fine moments on the record, but it all seems a tad uninspired. Though the album's format is conceived on a large scale, no cohesive tone is ever struck.
By this time, the Firesign had given up on being the world's cosmic cheerleaders. The hopefulness of the early records was long gone. The slightly more cynical trepidation of some of their '70s work had passed. Austin, Bergman, & Proctor were content to just be funny on this record. And funny they are. But they pack nowhere near the comedy wallop their '60s & '70s output do. Luckily, with a reunion, the return of Ossman, and the '90s, the Firesign Theatre would find itself returned to it's full satirical powers, producing "Give Me Immortality...," a work which ranks as one of their best.
As a side note, it should be noted that "Eat Or Be Eaten" was filmed as a half-hour special on Cinemax (as a "Cinemax Comedy Experiment"). However, the plots of the record and film are completely different. The film centers around a Morning TV show's coverage of Kudzu County and it's upcoming annual virgin sacrifice to the Kudzu Vine, which, if not satiated, will take over the town. The record and special share some commercial parodies (the three mentioned above) and random bits and lines. The film is, likewise, slight stuff. The "National Toilet" commercial from the special would be shown on the very first "Comic Relief" broadcast.
-- Phil Buchbinder