The Fiery Furnaces, "I'm Going Away"

July 29, 2009


Absurdly prolific since they first burst onto the music scene with "Gallowsbird's Bark" in 2003--this is their eighth album--the sibling duo of suburban Oak Park's Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger have steadily built a cult following devoted to their genre-defying, hyper-literary and melodically slippery modern update of progressive rock and Brechtian cabaret. But despite some impressive moments, and the allure of Eleanor's distaff version of Lou Reed's sing-speak delivery, their catalog as a whole is overly fussy, pretentiously belabored and sometimes headache-inducing. And good luck trying to hum any of their songs from beginning to end.

The emerging consensus on "I'm Going Away" is that this is the Friedberger's most straightforward and tuneful effort, but I just don't hear it. The alternating assaults of verbiage and pointless repetition of unremarkable lines--"She's gonna get me folked up, fairly beat," Eleanor keeps chanting in "Cups and Punches," as if she'll eventually convince us that it means something--merge with multi-instrumentalist and musical visionary Matthew's sensory-overload sonic collages, which can shift instantly from a vintage Yes guitar solo to a high school musical-worthy overture. But it all lacks the emotional core necessary to prompt any reaction more enthusiastic than, "Oh, my, isn't that clever and complicated?" Followed quickly by, "So what?"