3 out of 5
Label: Jetset Records
Produced by: Jamey Staub
For a song, Firewater’s Psychopharmacology is perfect.
Starting with Cop Shoot Cop, Tod A.’s work has always been a mixed bag for me, with assaults of noise and grunge and anger swilled with highschool-ish lyrics and predictability. So for every fist-pumping moment with something bitingly witty, there would be some incredible indulgence and eye-rolling woe is me bleating. Firewater mostly continued this trend, opening up the aural palette to embrace Irish jigs and, eventually, world music, but the mixed bag tone absolutely remained, and was maybe more obvious as Tod got older and relied less on distortion and foot-stomping crunch to carry things through weaker verses.
For a song, Psychopharmacology is leaps forward from all of that, embracing the group’s more pop-leaning tendencies, with Tod more willingly bringing in a sense of bravado and not trying so hard to be clever (…that it comes off as particularly unclever): Woke Up Down is a killer track, and gets me going any time I hear it, however many times I hear it. The title track that follows is catchy, but woof, it was kinda dated even before I heard it – the snipes that we’re over-medicating and jumping on the psychoses bandwagon gets tossed in the pile of “we don’t like to use labels for our relationship” nonsense that you stumble on when you’re growing up and trying to find your way in the world. Fell Off the Face of the Earth and Get Out Of My Head are a similar pair: the former is excellent, sad and affecting without being cloying, and the latter is well-produced and has a nice riff but takes all the cloying bits left out of Face of the Earth and applies them.
Continue this trend thereafter, with an extra special eye-roll for the male / female vocal tradeoffs on Bad, Bad World, which is a nice track, but comes from a wholly different style of album in which Tod is center stage and going for kitsch, doing a lounge singer impersonation. Is that out of line for Firewater? No, not at all, it’s just not a fit for the pop / rock approach of Psychopharmacology.
The album does end as equally well as it began – She’s the Mistake is the morosely-toned cousin to Woke Up Down’s out-of-the-gates catchiness, but it matches that track’s intelligence and memorability. Between these two, you also get mostly the full range of Tod’s emotions, bickering about being depressed or lamenting lost loves, but in both cases, they’re communicated in a smart and relatable way. The ups and downs inbetween obviously make for a similarly mixed album.