After six albums, you can't help but feel that there's one big in-joke going on and...
Chris Long 2007
If unbridled creativity won awards and filled arenas, brother-sister duo Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger would be the biggest band in the world. Since they dropped onto the musical radar back in 2003, they've managed to deliver a staggering six albums. It's an astounding feat, especially when you consider that it took the Stone Roses double that time to get a follow-up to their debut written. But what is more mind-bending is the fact they seem to still be overflowing with ideas.
Yet that is also the reason why they are not global superstars. Ever since the arrival of their delightfully unique debut Gallowbird's Bark, their songs have become increasingly complex and so stuffed with key and time changes, strange solos and indulgent musicianship that listening to them is the aural equivalent of trying to put both a cherry trifle and a ploughman's lunch in your mouth at the same time. Widow City suffers heavily from this problem, not least because of the decision to open it with a seven-minute epic, "The Philadelphia Grand Jury". By the time it finishes, there's the distinct feeling that you've listened to at least 12 songs.
What follows it fares little better. "Automatic Husband" wanders schizophrenically from grandiose to lo-fi, "Navy Nurse" sounds like a full rock opera condensed into six minutes, and "Uncle Charlie" - which opens with a John Bonham-esque drum solo - changes speed every 10 seconds, speaks of whiskey pie and dead jellyfish across nine performance poetry verses and shudders to a stop after a mere two minutes. It might just be the most self-indulgent song ever written.
Not that The Fiery Furnaces seem to care. There's always been a case to argue that their music is for them and no-one else, and the sheer tangled bloody-mindedness of the majority of Widow City only underlines a presumption that Matthew and Eleanor are hell-bent on creating music so exclusive that only they would ever want to listen to it. Only "Ex-Guru", a song that by Friedberger standards is practically stripped to the bone, coming as it does with a verse-chorus-verse structure and a single hook, suggests that they may yet be able to save themselves from disappearing up inside their own pretensions.
There’s nothing wrong with experimentation and innovation in music is to be applauded, but surely one of the main things that any artist wants to produce in their work is a sense of inclusivity. Widow City has none and that's a shame. There's no doubt that the Friedbergers are talented musicians, but after six albums, you can't help but feel that there's one big in-joke going on and they're the only ones finding it funny.