The Fiery Furnaces
Blueberry Boat
/rough trade; 2004/

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I may be slightly off the mark in trying to describe The Fiery Furnaces’ Blueberry Boat, but damned if it doesn’t sound like that six-year-old kid you see screaming in malls and department stores sometimes, running around frantically, disobeying their parents. The Fiery Furnaces are that kid, except imagine a little army of them. Due to the fact that this review is being made well after the albums release, there’s been time to soak in all of the criticisms towards the record. Countless comparisons have been made to those heyday rock and roll opera bands (The Who, some choice Floyd). These comparisons are not without a degree of truth, however, they perform a certain pigeonholing of the band, assigning them tags which really and truly are not representative of what the Furnaces are all about. Yes their songs are long (8 min is the average running time of each song on the albums first half), and yes there are concepts abound (pirates, lost card theft?), but often, people seem to neglect mentioning the gosh darned fun to be had in listening to this record.

Blueberry Boat contains 13 pseudo-operatic rock ‘n’ synth adventures. Like Gallowsbird’s Bark, Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger seem to be dishing out lyrics that are purely stream of conscious. Unlike that record though, the songs are long-winded, fat and ready to explode. Gallowsbird’s Bark kept its angular rompers within the concise structure of most pop songs. Every track on that record was fun (right down to “Worry Worry”), but the whole experience leant itself slightly familiar. It was easy to maintain a steady grip on that album, like the mother of that rambunctious rascal we talked about. Not the case with Blueberry Boat. This album takes you wherever it’s heading, unconcerned with your ability to keep up. Before you know how or what to react to, you’re already slipping down some new musical path (is that a guitar, sampler and...toy whistle?). The most spectacular song is the title track. “Blueberry Boat” is an incredible tale of ships and pirates. In it, Eleanor takes on the personae of a female captain who is transporting her precious cargo (Grand Rapids blueberries) across the sea. Sooner or later, pirates overtake her ship and demand the cargo. One of the most visceral moments on the record is when Eleanor sings in a tone that is wholly courageous, “Go ahead you could cut my throat, but you ain’t never getting the cargo of my blueberry boat” and then - - “it’s sad and it’s cold at the bottom of the sea, but at least I got my blueberries with me.” The bass, synthesizers, guitar, piano and drum machine add up to create a winding structure that is literally shifting every 40 seconds or so through all of the songs 9 minutes. “Chris Michaels” is equal in ability as a mini-epic tale made to sound like it’s for kids. Each song on Blueberry Boat is almost as rich - simply incredible.

The main thing I’d like to get across is, for those of you ignoring this release due to homogeneous hype or because every review seems to be saying the same thing about the album and the band (The Fiery Furnaces went crazy!), ignore it. All of that should be secondary to the fact that The Fiery Furnaces have released an unbelievably dense album that will tickle your brain for months on end.

-andrew iliadis

/nov 15th 2004/