You are being redirected - hold on tight!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Music Review: Fiery Furnaces Do What They Know -- But is it Enough?

Fiery Furnaces: Wrong turn at Self Indulgence Ave?

With all the talk engendered by Radiohead's album download scheme and Starbuck's signing boomer acts right and left the general consensus is that the traditional big music business model is an Endangered Species. Furthermore, that may not be such a bad thing. These dinosaurs are the people who rejected Wilco's best album, forced Aretha Franklin to sing standards before fleeing to Ahmet Ertegun and signed Milli Vanilli.

But what if Blondie had never been forced by producer Mike Chapman to go back to a cod-reggae trifle they had been working on and re-tool it with a disco beat as "Heart of Glass?"
What if ambitious manager Andrew Loog Oldham hadn't bothered to lock Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in a room and refused to let them out until they wrote some songs together?

More to the point, what if some cigar smoking prick behind a desk in a glass tower swiveled his chair around and said to Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger something like:

"Listen you two siblings, lovers, whatever you are...I just listened to your new album. Where's the hit?"

Is it indie-rock heresy to ask why two talented people with hooks, sound and attitude galore can get so close to making deliciously memorable songs and still feel compelled to sabotage them time and again?

The best full disc these guys have is EP, ostensibly a collection of stray tracks from b-sides and mini-eps. How perverse is it that great songs like "Evergreen" and "Here Comes the Summer", "Sing For Me" and "Single again" were given a sort of throwaway treatment. These days, artists can be as perverse as they want to be towards their own work and still find a following (hello Bob Pollard) but it really galls me with Fiery Furnaces. I enjoyed the epic sprawling monster that is their Blueberry Boat, an album made up mostly of epic songsuites. Following their comparatively straightforward debut it felt like a band stretching out and finding it's horizons but subsequent albums seem to suggest that what was fresh and arresting has calcified into self indulgence.

Their new album Widow City is typical in that there are a few good songs sandwiched amongst the random riffery, logghorhiac vocals and skronking synth sounds. Matthew, who writes and masterminds the songs, seems to delight in shoving words down his sisters gullet in the way my brother used to hold me down and stuff dirty socks in my mouth. Eleanor has a terrific voice, refined and wistful, but she's made to sing such ridiculousness that it's hard to warm up to her performances and the multi-syllabic overflow lends an air of sameyness to her delivery. My fave song here is "My Egyptian Grammer" in which she's so loaded down with words that she's overdubbed on top of herself singing separate verses.

There are pleasures to be had in the tone of the meaty drums and guitars, the surprising keyboard textures and the flashes of melody and finessed arrangements. But too often it all devolves into murk. Would Clive Davis or Mo Ostin have let such a promising career devolve?

Widow City gets 2 out of 5 Clive Davis':

No comments: