The Fiery Furnaces - I'm Going Away

Mike Mantin 14/07/2009

Rating: 4/5

The Fiery Furnaces have so far built a career out of suprising people. Their 2004 magnum opus 'Blueberry Boat' was a sprawling, beautiful and occasionally terrifying masterwork, with half the songs over 10 minutes long and divided into short sections which would shift entirely with no notice. They followed it with an album recorded with Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger's grandmother, 80-year-old Olga Sarantos, and the eccentricity and unpredictability (which often translsates into genuinely original music) has since become their defining characteristic.

So much so, then, that one of the biggest shocks they have delivered so far is putting out an album of relatively straightforward "'70s piano pop" (their words), with no grandmothers or ludicrously complicated storylines in sight. Clearly this will cause anxious ripples amongst their fanbase, but 'I'm Going Away' both flirts with mainstream success and works hard to cement their reputation as master songwriters of catchy and - yes - unpredictable pop songs.

It's an album of piano ballads, seemingly using one of their most memorable songs - 'Evergreen', from their stunning 2005 collection 'EP' - as a template. They are short and accessible, yet manage to mostly be as thrilling as their any of their prog explorations. 'Keep Me In Dark', a triumphant jam built around menacing riffs from the piano and Matthew's beloved wah-wah guitar, disintegrating into a disjointed but beautiful instrumental breakdown. 'The End Is Near' - tantalisingly released as an entry-point mp3 a month ago - is another highlight, a slow-burner which sounds best enjoyed in a smokey underground jazz club, cigarette in hand.

Matt and Eleanor continue to populate their songs with a colourful cast - 'Charmaine Champagne' ("She'll sing you the squarest thing on the jukebox") and 'Ray Bouvier' continue Eleanor's talent for wonderfully enigmatic character studies. There's still an abundance of playful lyrics and musical u-turns for fans to fall in love with again, but there's no need for any further comparisons to their previous work: 'I'm Going Away' stands alone as a finely crafted and original pop album, which will surely be one of the best surprises of the year.