Album review: The Fiery Furnaces – ‘I’m Going Away’

The Friedbergers’ most accessible album to date – thrilling quirks still included

Considering [a]The Fiery Furnaces[/a]’ last three proper albums were a nigh-on unlistenable conceptual biography of their grandmother (‘Rehearsing My Choir’) and the squelchingly dissonant and occasionally terrifying ‘Bitter Tea’ and ‘Widow City’, the direction of their seventh was anyone’s guess. A narrative in the key of F about radioactive sewer rats? An electronic paean to Edgar Allan Poe’s early work? Either would be less surprising than how ‘I’m Going Away’ has turned out: it’s astonishingly normal and downright melodic. Well, normal for the avant-garde Friedberger siblings…

But ardent fans of the Furnaces’ curveball ways shouldn’t panic – ‘I’m Going Away’ might be far removed from ‘Rehearsing My Choir’, but Eleanor’s husky jazz adlibbing and Matt’s proggy squiggles pervert the smooth ballad-like numbers and snappy pop songs from veering anywhere near the middle of the road. It’s easy to imagine Captain Beefheart growling lasciviously over the bendy psychedelic fuzz of the title track, where Eleanor sings with the irritable vehemence of a woman wronged, a comic anger that’s reignited on ‘Cut The Cake’. Like Patti Smith doing her best Dylan impression, she rails sardonically against the press over Matt’s crooning baritone as she wonders “who cut the cake with my special knife?”.

The gorgeous ‘Drive To Dallas’ is perhaps the highlight of Eleanor’s lyric writing, smouldering with wounded defiance as she sings “I’m not gonna drive to Dallas with blurry eyes ever again” to a slow jam that recalls ‘Evergreen’ from ‘EP’; while after the resigned piano chords at the start of ‘The End Is Near’, the outro leaps and whizzpops as if drunk on a vat of spiked frobscottle. ‘Charmaine Champagne’’s guitar sounds like a battered saxophone made from a rusted exhaust pipe, and Miss Champagne’s rambunctious Soho showgirl verve is reignited on ‘Cups And Punches’, yelpy, progressive and daubed with grinding nods to the electronic stylings of ‘Blueberry Boat’.

Much like the great Don Van Vliet going from the absurdist ‘Trout Mask Replica’ to the comparatively conservative yet utterly joyous ‘Clear Spot’ three years later, ‘I’m Going Away’ sees The Fiery Furnaces abandon their surrealist tendencies to work outside their comfort zone, experimenting with structure and euphony to reassert their status as our most vital musical siblings.

Laura Snapes

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