Music Reviews
Blueberry Boat

Fiery Furnaces Blueberry Boat

(Rough Trade) Rating - 7/10

I must admit that I was never quite sure what to make of Gallowsbird's Bark, the debut album by the Fiery Furnaces. Hard to tell if it was tongue-in-cheek or deadly serious. But once you see them live, it all makes sense. In person, brother/sister duo Eleanor and Matt Friedburger sure do cut a striking double act. Both dark and attractive, unsmiling and formidable, they hammer out these songs one after the other, without stopping for breath, like some huge, glorious overture to what will surely be a crazy baroque opera.

And Blueberry Boat, the band's second album, is a rock opera of sorts, a suite of intriguing, mini-adventure stories complete with an overture of sorts, and a ten-minute opening track. I know, ten minutes is kinda long, right? And many of the songs on this 76-minute opus - yes, I think you'll find that 'opus' is the word for this album - clock in at well over the six-minute mark. So basically, if you're the sort who simply demands the simplicity of the three-minute pop song, chances are you'll find this album impossibly grandiose, self-indulgent and disjointed.

Whatever. I've always been one to embrace ambition, spontaneity and lack of polish, and basically, this is one hell of a musical roller-coaster. Unlike the first album, Blueberry Boat is entirely written and composed by Matt Friedburger, whose voice was only heard once or twice on Gallowsbird's Bark. Here, the siblings bounce off each other throughout, like two overly-imaginative little kids making up stories on the spot about pirates, magic lockets, lost dogs, steam trains and kidnapping. The sound is disjointed and fluid all at once: the songs blend together more or less seamlessly, but the album spins all over the place. The album seems both spontaneous and perfectly rehearsed at the same time, but threatens to lose control and break free at every corner.

On a first listen, this record almost demands too much attention; it's not background, dinner-party music, for sure. But you'll quickly realise that the Fiery Furnaces are really pretty spectacular. There's just so much going on throughout that you can't stop listening. And it's not only the wordy, complex lyrical tales, delivered in a disarmingly direct and well-pronounced fashion by Eleanor; there's also a breathtaking cacophony of instrumentals that constantly change shape and style, from garage rock flecked with retro guitar solos, to messy synthesizers, kooky toy pianos and junky sound effects.

The overall effect is sort of a musical diary of different adventures, themes, characters and influences. A reference to The Who is unavoidable, what with the whole rock musical feel. Same goes for Sergeant Pepper, and anything else that involves that sort of flamboyant, theatrical approach. Blueberry Boat is ambitious, to be sure, but also refreshingly sincere and clever. Despite a certain lack of overall focus, Matt and Eleanor are staring right at you while running in all directions.