- The Fiery Furnaces
- Blueberry Boat
- Rough Trade
- July 13, 2004
On their sophomore release, the Fiery Furnaces combine their quirky pop sensibilities and down-south blues-rock feel with a new resolve for the epic. Blueberry Boat is a magical journey through a stuffed, 74-minute galaxy of lengthy, spastic, and nonsensical tracks. But, after hearing the album, I was rather disgusted, quickly deciding I preferred their debut Gallowsbird's Bark's energetic, fun approach over Blueberry Boat's drawn-out, storytime epics. Not only does Gallowsbird deliver a more enjoyable experience altogether, but it rarely falls into the drawn-out, boring ballad potholes of Blueberry Boat. It's the most ambitious album of the year, but for every success there is usually a failure.
The album opens with the ten-minute "Quay Cur", which sets a loose blueprint for the rest of the album. The song starts with squirting loop and piano, and stays that way for relatively four ugly minutes while Eleanor sings her way through some random story, and then, after a few moments of organ pounding, the songs suddenly breaks into one of the catchiest rock-pop moments I've heard in a long time, but after only a minute the song suddenly dies into a slow, uninteresting wander (still full of many random changes, but never becoming a moment worthy of attention). And that's how much of the rest of the album goes. So much prospect, but such odd composure. The Fiery Furnaces' big puzzler is that their eccentricity is both their appeal and distraction. On Gallowsbird, eccentricity was part of the fun, but on Blueberry Boat, the songs are so extremely weird that it's just unbearable at times.
In general, the Fiery Furnaces are in best form when they are upbeat and energetic, and with about half of Blueberry Boat attempting to please with only lyrical substance (and slow musical backing), Gallowsbird's Bark seems to come out on top. What doesn't help is that most of the lyrics, while not horrible, are sometimes uninteresting. And, while some moments of Blueberry's less invigorating moments do come out as heartfelt and moving (specifically, 4:30 into "Blueberry Boat"), it's just not motivating enough to listen to. The album is such a challenging and demanding listen, that it serves almost no purpose in one's listening catalogue.
But, Blueberry Boat's highlights, while sometimes temporary, are still commendable. "Straight Street"'s clapping verses and stomping choruses are catchy and enjoyable, and even after the song falls into a usual slow slump, guitars rambling in the background keep the song interesting. In "Chris Michaels", both the beginning and end are absolutely invigorating, and one of the album's shortest tracks, "I Lost My Dog", is a saloon-style rocker that could have been on Gallowsbird, and the lyrics are humorously enjoyable. And, while the similarly saloon piano driven "Mason City" is slower and less enjoyable, "Inspector Blancheflower" is entertaining with its steady beat and quick singing three minutes in, and trading vocals at seven minutes. But the last four tracks, while shorter than most of the rest, seem relatively uninspired, and might as well have been shoved together into a long boring epic like "Quay Cur" or "Blueberry Boat".
What's most interesting is that the Fiery Furnaces' live show is nothing like either of their albums. After one song, Eleanor approaches the mic and says, "Okay, we're just going to play a bunch of songs without stopping." And then, they start, and their performance is not a collage of songs simply melded together, it's a riot. The Fiery Furnaces throw all of their best, catchy, energetic chorus moments together into one giant thirty-minute set that blows you away. To quote the person standing behind me: "What the hell just happened?" Yes, it's that good, and a must see. But, instead of a headlong charge of wild indie rock, we're left with Blueberry Boat. All I'm saying is, Where's the live album?
In conclusion, Blueberry Boat is an achievement in style and composition, as well as a bold yet commendable statement in the indie-mindset that all bands of this nature should strive for, but the problem is that not only is it relatively unlistenable, but it's not an album that I would or will ever return to for another listen.
- Andrew Wexler
- Quay Cur
- Straight Street
- Blueberry Boat
- Chris Michaels
- Paw Paw Tree
- My Dog Was Lost But Now He's Found
- Mason City
- Chief Inspector Blancheflower
- Birdie Brain
- Turning Round
- Wolf Notes