Fiery Furnaces – The Widow City (2007, Thrill Jockey)

The run-up to a new Fiery Furnaces release tends to generate the kind of speculation that reads: “blah blah- their poppiest one yet”, “yak yak- no more shodding things up every three and a half bars”, “yappity-yak… a record you can sit all the way through without needing an alka-seltzer and a little lie down afterwards…” etc.

This is largely because we’re all secretly wishing it were true.

You see, Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger are sneaky buggers – dangling down a big juicy carrot of pop bliss only to snatch it back and replace it with impenetrable spoken-word passages over wonky jazz-fusion breakdowns and lurching electro squelches. They’re the aural equivalent of furiously sucking up the last few drops of undiluted Ribena through a very thin straw. There is pleasure to be gained, but a sickly pleasure, and really all you end up with is terrible wind and a giddy hyperventilated feeling in your temple.

While this incongruous method may have given the Furnaces maximum points for originality on 2004’s ‘Blueberry Boat’, three albums later and there’s little sign of the band letting up. Not being the kind of music you can enjoy through focussing any less than 99.9999% of your attention to, the question remains – can we really be bothered to decipher and detangle another Fiery Furnaces album?

2006’s ‘Rehearsing My Choir’ was narrated by the band’s grandmother and sorely lacked a handy-dandy 700-page map of the Friedberger family history to guide the listener through its over ambitious concept. So in a way ‘Widow City’ can confirm a return to the band’s pop sensibilities – if they ever really had any, that is. This said, it’s still a Fiery Furnaces album with the usual array of syrupy blues structures played by a malfunctioning toy orchestra belonging to a toddler with behavioural issues.

Eleanor Friedberger witters on as passionately as that drunk but dull bridesmaid who won’t just go away and bother someone else at the wedding. You might have pretended to give half a shit when ‘Blueberry Boat’ came out but now you’re just pissed on cheap fizz and all you want to do is dance around like a baboon to ‘One More Time’.

‘Widow City’ could well be the best Fiery Furnaces album to date – better even than ‘Blueberry Boat’. The problem though is that it’s largely the same sound being pedalled by a band who are as famous for being exhausting as they are for writing decent quirky pop songs.

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