It’s now been almost seven years since The Fiery Furnaces apparently signed off with the fittingly titled I’m Going Away. Often brilliant, sometimes almost frustratingly frenzied in its invention, the only thing about Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger’s output that was predictable was its sheer unpredictability, mischievously shifting from garage-pop to fragmented rock-operatics, thinking nothing of a concept album of Chicago reminiscences narrated by the siblings’ grandmother.
In that time, with brother Matthew dead-set on a path of wayward experimentation, beginning with a sprawling double solo set and taking in a series of eight albums each featuring only one instrument, Eleanor Friedberger has released two albums which retained the witty, storytelling lyrics of her band’s best work, but jettisoned the hyperactive lucky-dip approach for a sunny ’70s singer-songwriter feel. Last Summer and Personal Record were melodic, personable and funny, and suggested it had been Eleanor’s touch showing through in the Furnaces’ occasional glimpses of more focussed, canny pop.
New View, then, is nothing less – but little more – than a continuation of the work begun over Friedberger’s first solo albums. She’s backed here by Brooklyn band Icewater, whose rootsy palette of guitar, bass, drums and Wurlitzer organ seldom varies from a country-tinged, Neil Young/mid-period Fleetwood Mac template, providing a classic sounding, if unexciting, bed for her warm, wry vocals. Lyrically, it’s even more of a personal record than its predecessor, dealing with relocation – the New View of the title reflecting her move away from her home in Brooklyn – and the end of a relationship.
Typically, though, in dealing with the latter, Friedberger avoids conventional confessional songwriting, by addressing both the process itself (“Today I am frozen but tomorrow I’ll write about you” – He Didn’t Mention His Mother) and externalising pain (“She came to me in deep distress, Torn with jealousy and rage” – Your Word). Sweetest Girl also addresses another’s heartbreak (“Sweet girl with a broken heart, stop crying so I won’t start/The sky is red and so are your eyes from crying”), and offers a change in texture from the opening two tracks, whose four-chord Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door retreads grow a little samey. Folkish then gently psychedelic, here the repeated refrain gives way to a rush of backing vocals and a descending, liquid guitar line.
New View continues in much the same fashion, alternating between brighter and slower, more reflective numbers, with the snappy, twanging Because I Asked You, the mellow swells of All Known Things and the lush, regretful Never Is A Long Time particular highlights. Whereas her previous band’s records – and to a lesser extent, her own solo albums – occasionally overflowed with ideas, this feels reined in and controlled: it’s a pity last October’s spritely stand-alone False Alphabet City – an ode to the city she was leaving behind – wasn’t more of an indicator of the direction to be taken.
Things improve in the final moments, though. First, a few more playful quirks appear in the off-kilter slide guitar and nonsense verse of Does Turquoise Work? (“There was crystal deception at the disappointing picnic … I used his foot as a phone and said something”). Meanwhile, the closing A Long Walk is a superb, rambling summing-up of moving and loss, a journey Friedberger starts with company (“We met up this morning and laced up our walking shoes”, “we kissed in front of strangers like regular lovers do”) but ends in solitude (“I stopped to catch my breath and turning ’round you’re gone … We left my place together but I wrote this song alone”).
Bittersweet and buoyant, it’s a great ending to what could well be the closing of a chapter for Friedberger, so much do these three albums seem of a piece; this New View is pleasant, but a little more of the old fire would be welcome.