HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 October 2007
After exploring just about everything else, the Fiery Furnaces have embraced their inner indie-rocker.
And their sixth full-length album "Widow City" weaves together music-hall, electronic pop, and a twisted, colourful brand of rock'n'roll. It's more angular and jagged than anything they've done before, like a hard-rock band that took acid in a children's museum.
It opens with sharp drums and a tight, sputtery riff. For one horrible moment it sounds like they've abandoned their signature sound for more "typical" rock music...
.... then the melody fills with piano, flute, keyboard and sharp thickets of synth, and you know they haven't lost their touch, or their electro-music-hall trappings. It's a wonderfully dark pop song, especially when Eleanor Friedberger turns cynical about a court's decision ("We already know/there ain't no suspense/That the Philadelphia Grand Jury strings me up").
The songs that follow are just as dense, intense and strange: gurgling electropop, thundering rock clouds, fuzzy fast pop melodies, drum explosions, quirky experimentals, bouncy schizophrenic pop melodies, driving powerpop with circus edges, and roiling combinations of electro-rock and psychedelic music-hall -- basically, any and all combinations of their past work.
In fact, if "Widow City" has an overriding flaw, it's that it's almost TOO densely packed. Since the melodies are catchier, the Friedberger siblings apparently compensated by smashing loads of quirky instrumentation around typical rock rhythms. It's a lot to digest all at once -- try listening to it one or two songs at a time, to get the full effect.
Yeah, there are angular guitars, drums and basslines, especially in songs like "Clear Signal From Cairo" and "Navy Nurse." They're the backbone of many of the songs. But they're wrapped in cascading mellotron, scrapes of synth, samples, monkey noises, keyboard, tootling flutes, rippling piano, shimmering chimes, et cetera. Ye gods, is there anything they can't mold into a fun pop melody?
Against the backdrop of her brother's musical madness, Eleanor's smooth vocals sound pretty normal. Sometimes the songs are just rambles, and sometimes they're full of vivid imagery ("No more revenge cobbler or whiskey pie/My cheeks will be the color of dead jellyfish") and clever wordplay ("By all means, my liege/lay siege, lay siege").
The Fiery Furnaces twist all their musical styles into a insane patchwork, also called "Widow City." It's way too much to take in at once, but what fun to be overwhelmed with their music...