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Bill Hicks, Arizona Bay

Rykodisc, 1997; RCD 10352, £11.99

It may not be quite as informative as the tomes normally scrutinised on these pages; it may be almost twelve years old; and yes, it may only bear a tangential, titular connection to the sea, but this recording of Bill Hicks from his home town of Austin, Texas, is still required listening.

Many of the names have changed but, almost exactly a decade after Hicks' death from pancreatic cancer, the pantomimes of popular culture and politics which define our public life are essentially the same as they were when he was tearing into them with such brilliance, and this is why his comedy remains so devastating to this day. Targets such as George Bush Snr, Dan Quayle, New Kids on the Block and Debbie Gibson (Remember her? ... anyone?) have very recognisable modern-day equivalents, who may count themselves lucky that Hicks is no longer around to pass judgement.

One of the few comedy conceptal bums to have ever graced the world, the recording takes its title from a fantasy of Hicks' which opens and closes the performance. Disillusioned and depressed by his dealings with Hollywood executives, he imagines Los Angeles and all it represents being swept into the sea by an enormous earthquake, “leaving a beautiful serenity called ... Arizona Bay.”

The album is also notable for the musical interludes which punctuate the recording (Hicks was a wannabe rock-star) -you'll find them irritating or inspired, depending on your attitude to such things.

The material itself covers everything from religion and spirituality to pornography and censorship, taking in police brutality, the Kennedy assassination, Saddam Hussein, God and Satan along the way.

If you're not yet convinced that you should have this CD, you should also be aware that Arizona Bay contains “the best god-damn pun you'll ever hear”. (It's true.) And, all concept-album leanings aside, this is some of the most ferocious and brilliantly delivered comedy ever recorded, by one of stand-up's true heroes.

[Check out the TooL track Aenema]

Topics: Culture