The Fiery Furnaces, loved by critics and the fashionista, are well placed to slot into cult-band status. And for sheer effort alone, they deserve the credit. Songs start, stop, advance, retreat, rise up, sink down and it’s like having the contents of an orchestra thrown at you in a variety of time signatures. Blueberry Boat opener “Quay Cur” is a case in point: it’s like Squarepusher-meets-Joan Baez-meets-Long John Silver-meets-Dr Seuss; it has a duration of ten minutes and to call it meandering would be offensive to long and winding roads everywhere. It also lacks the most important aspect of any long and winding road, a destination. “Blueberry Boat” is a drunken sea-shanty channeled through hurdy-gurdy’s, honky-tonk and Rick Wakeman’s cape, sung by your primary school teacher, there may be a good song in “Chris Michaels” (mp3) but it never escapes (actually there might be several good songs in “Chris Michaels” but none of them get out) and the equally confused “Chief Inspector Blancheflower” starts with Matthew Friedberger muttering over one of those pre-programmed demos you get on electronic keyboards and then becomes not unlike the episode of “Friends” where Ross discovers his “sound.” Of course it doesn’t stay that way for long, but despite the fact it’s relatively pleasant when Eleanor Friedberger takes over vocally, you’re still laughing at the intro.
When they play it straighter things improve: the impassioned “My Dog Was Lost But Now He’s Found” is strangely touching. About ¾ of “Mason City” with its patty cake beat and sing-song vocal is interestingly folksy, but then it just launches into squelchy electronic noises and nonsensical spoken word interludes. And therein lies the rub. The Furnace’s tiny attention span means any time you are actually start to like a given song, they yank the carpet out from under your feet, careering off in some other direction.
I can’t see the point of this album. More importantly, I can’t see when or where you’d want to play Blueberry Boat. If you want to impress a music journalist, namedrop The Fiery Furnaces. If you need an example of a genre-busting, modern day “rock-opera” for use in a dissertation lamenting the lack of creativity in current music, use Blueberry Boat. If you want a good Fiery Furnaces album that doesn’t feel so much like hard work, get Gallowsbird’s Bark.