Review Summary: With its lopsided smile and rough-edged manner, Widow City has a suave bad boy edge (in lieu of a smooth, productive ride) that is kind of charming. And it wants to remind you that, over, and over, and over again.Widow City
is too long. It’s brash and abrasive. It’s off-putting in its own skewed, indie pop way. It is the answer to the backlash St. Vincent got for being multiple caricatures. The point is, Widow City
won’t be your cup of hot tea, especially if you don’t find Eleanor Friedberger a hottie.
But I digress.
is the bastard child of siblings Matthew Friedberger and Eleanor Friedberger and I mean it as it sounds (just note that this is the first time the siblings appear on the cover together). With its lopsided smile and rough-edged manner, applying quantities of bite and bark, it has a suave bad boy edge (in lieu of a smooth, productive ride) that is kind of charming. The Fiery Furnaces’ sixth LP, Widow City
isn’t the focused, concept album its previous outings were and just plugs its ‘70s album rock into its high-strung indie sensibility, but there’s an accomplished gleam to Eleanor’s steel-toed persona. But to be charismatically blunt, you’ve got to sharpen your tongue and style; The Fiery Furnaces is just redundant, from its name to its roots. It’s not just the trick; it’s the allusion.
And like a tall glass of a potent cosmopolitan cocktail, ‘The Philadelphia Grand Jury’ shifts violently from distorted melancholy guitars to pop piano and back. It’s not only mind numbingly catchy but also a berating act of, Eleanor’s crisp, vocals mimicking the chord’s melody. “There are no more favors to ask. There are petitions to pass. It’s all their hands, it’s all in their hands,” she sings, long before the song has dropped into loud, crunching guitars. There’s no rhyme or reason to the song’s length, but I guess that’s the point: The Philadelphia Grand Jury is
full of the most crooked sonuvabitches you can ever come across. But it houses most of the albums frilliest and most interesting surprises; catchy repetition abounds until the cocky piano finale of the title track.
But Widow City
’s celebratory overproduction, distorting every blast of rhythm and giving every guitar melody a sharpened edge, gives the homebrewed lyricism silver-dipped witticism. Locked in the suburban utopia full of apartment complexes, duplexes and first dates, where love binds the indie pop to the tribal sexuality of Widow City
’s tough exterior. Who could possibly deny Eleanor’s butch performance to the album’s best (and, tellingly, the most accessible) track, ‘Ex-Guru’? “’She means nothing to me now;’ I tell myself that everyday,” she sings into the sonic wave of the chorus, sliding into the thriller-pop tuned verse, giving into the monster. (It was the monster called lust, to which she had recently succumbed.) It’s a cloudy universe, one a transverse of melancholic pop with piano and cocky breakdowns, as in the most immediate hybrid of the two, ‘Clear Signal from Cairo.’
The best bet is treating Widow City
like a soundtrack to the day than the cohesive album it won’t end up being; the album takes on a hazy quality to its edgier, more sedated Of Montreal formula, after a long hit of chronic. ‘My Egyptian Grammar’ becomes a wispy, kaleidoscope of harps and R&B styled backing, violins appropriately underscoring Eleanor’s feminine performance. How else to take in the awkward transition to the kitchen-noise percussion (bird tweets and slams, among others) that overturns ‘The Old Hag Is Sleeping?’ On a record brimming with decorative enhancements of its style, it’s fitting that the kick off into the latter half of the album (the once again overlong ‘Navy Nurse) would state its claim so appropriately: “It’s nice to go nautical when choosing a doormat,” Eleanor shoves into the surfer rock tune. ‘Navy Nurse’ is very much the complement to ‘The Philadelphia Grand Jury,’ though you might as well have the album on repeat by this point.
Indeed, by the time ‘Uncle Charlie’ rolls around (featuring the impressive technicality of Robert D'Amico, who seems to realize what the Friedberger siblings need to offset their pop grandeur), one can get trigger happy with the forward button. Stop to revel in the convoluted waltz and guitar slide of ‘Restorative Beer’ and Eleanor’s pseudo-rap to ‘Pricked in the Heart,’ and to let the doo-wop, piano berated title track to breezily end the album on a fortunately refined title track. It brings the album to a (slow gathering) head and just underlines the off-kilter awkward passages Widow City
frequently drops, but it proves that the Friedberger siblings can craft a good pop song. They just can’t seem to tell when that’s enough. Come on