Title: Widow City
Catalogue Number: Thrill Jockey Thrill 189
Review Format: LP
Release Year: 2007
Mmm… does the world need more quirkiness in its diet of popular music? It would appear so judging by the release of this album by The Fiery Furnaces. The arthouse is alive and well and living in New York.
There are 16 tracks to get through so let's pick some of the more entertaining ones. "More Automatic Husband" is, well, intense. The lyrics are confusing, there are (presumably keyboard produced as there is no guitarist credited) power chords a plenty and then it just ends with a truly bizarre line "… it was made by a special commission of Navajo basketball coaches and blonde ladies". Confused? We were! Then we crash straight into part metal, part electro disco "Ex-Guru". This is actually quite a catchy one but even then The Fiery Furnaces manage to squeeze eucalyptus juice into the lyrics. Didn't even know there was such a thing. Now, "My Egyptian Grammar" is rather fine. Completely weird of course but Eleanor Friedberger's vocals are really rather entrancing and the song was strangely hummable. The Bluesbunny head was hurting a bit with "Japanese Slippers" - it sounded industrial as if drummer Robert D'Amici was impersonating a drum machine just out of badness to mix with the neo psychedelic lyrics. Sometimes, even having the lyrics printed right in front of you doesn't help your understanding. Such was the case with "Right by Conquest". Neither was our understanding helped with the consumption of strong drink. It certainly wasn't a bad song as the Bluesbunny ears demanded three consecutive replays but damned if I can explain it to you. Then we came to the exquisite drama of "Restorative Beer". Wildly dramatic in a late sixties' rock meets Tom Waits kind of way. It's about beer (or maybe not) so we thought we could handle it. We really did. In case you were wondering, the title track "Widow City" gets stuck right at the end. It is not so much a song as a discordant deconstruction with an added poetry recitation. Strange.
There does seem to be something about this album that suggests that this band would never be associated with having a good time. Of course, all music does not necessarily have to be associated with having a good time but the songs came across like a lost prog rock album that Patti Smith might have produced. The lyrics have an obscurity that suggests a degree of arthouse pomposity and the arrangements can be jagged and even disconcerting at times. Overall, this gives the album a theatrical feel. Oh, and it is just a bit disturbing as well. If David Lynch ever gave up movie making and took up music then it would turn out something like this. It was certainly interesting but I'm just not sure that I actually liked it.
December 23, 2007
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