TERRY GROSS, host:
Our rock critic, Ken Tucker, has a review of the new album, "I'm Going Away." It's The Fiery Furnaces' eighth album since 2003. The prolific brother-sister team of Matthew and Eleanor Friedberger is always unpredictable. Their album "Rehearsing My Choir" used their grandmother as one of the lead vocalists. And their live album, "Remember," had a staggering 49 songs. Rock Critic Ken Tucker says "I'm Going Away" is unpredictable in a new way - in the brevity and directness of its dozen new songs.
(Soundbite of song, "I'm Going Away")
THE FIERY FURNACES (Group): (Singing) I'm going away, I'm going away. I'll be back some old day. I'll be back some old day. I'll be back some old day. I'm going away, I'm going away. I'll be back some old day. I'll be back some old day. I'll be back some old day. Please tell me man what more can I do. Please tell me man what more can I do. Lord knows I can't get along with you.
KEN TUCKER: America's favorite art-rock band, well, mine anyway, for sure, has come up with a dozen new songs that are as close to pop songs as The Fiery Furnaces are likely to get, which means only that the compositions are a bit shorter than usual. Mathew and Eleanor Friedberger have always written lovely melodies, sometimes two or three distinct ones within a single song, which tends to throw some people off and to send other listeners into a state of happy bliss. Brother and sister seem incapable of cheap irony or facile joking.
Their song "The End Is Near" really is about everything coming to an end. The human brain, if not the Earth itself, grinding to a halt. I might try to reminisce, sings Eleanor. Then she immediately utters a flat no - no, she will not reminisce, thank you.
(Soundbite of song, "The End Is Near")
THE FIERY FURNACES: (Singing) The end is near. The end is near, the time has come. There ain't no way. Nobody will save you now. The end is near. The end is near, the time has come. Don't even think that there's a way out of this. Down the road and up the creek, it's over. It's such a clear and certain hell of a thing, it's over.
TUCKER: One of the most attractive songs on "I'm Going Away" is "Drive to Dallas," which is all about not driving to Dallas. It's an anti-road song, about not going the distance to see a lover the singer would just as soon never see again. The music surrounding this sentiment is gorgeous, a languid ballad in which piano and guitar flirt with a jazzy discursiveness that erupts at various points with a whiplash intensity. No matter what the music is doing, however, Eleanor's voice remains serenely insistent in its unadorned directness.
(Soundbite of song, "Drive to Dallas")
THE FIERY FURNACES: (Singing) If I see you tomorrow I don't know what I will do. If I see you tomorrow I don't know what I will do. I'm not going to cut my hair or run around the block. I'm not going to drive to Dallas with blurry eyes ever again. With windshield wipers that can't wipe away my tears. And everything I own piled up in the backseat. With a speeding ticket from that speed trap town. The one that got my license revoked. But I never got pulled over. Never got questioned. No, I never got pulled over. Never got questioned. But I still drove all around, all around, all around without it.
TUCKER: The Friedbergers, in this series of mostly upbeat melodies about negation, denial and avoidance, address our current state. Or as they say in a statement released with this album, times are tough. And they take the word economy seriously, cutting down the size and shapes of their songs. Then there's what I think of as their Bob Dylan song, a Bob Dylan song as Matt and Eleanor would write and perform it. One called "Even in the Rain," as though it was pouring cats and dogs out on Highway 61.
(Soundbite of song, "Even in the Rain")
THE FIERY FURNACES: (Singing) You wore your wrestling badge from your wrestling match. You wore a t-shirt over your suit that says you just won State. I guess I still don't mind that you're late. I guess we must have done a lot of kissing. I must have known not what we were missing. She followed us to the motel and I lied all the way. I rode on the back of your bike all the way to Lake Geneva. I let you wear the helmet even though you never offered anyway. Even in the rain.
TUCKER: That statement I mentioned earlier also contains a striking observation that suggests The Fiery Furnaces are their own best rock critics. The dramatic setting of the music isn't provided by the story or image of the given act or band they write. It's provided by the lives of the people who use, listen to, the music. That is pop music's promise and problem, or danger, unquote. Yes, just so, The Fiery Furnaces fill their songs with opportunities for us to enter the environments they create. As listeners of "I'm Going Away," we choose not to go away but to stay and complete the experience by assigning our own meanings and emotions to The Fiery Furnaces' free play of sounds and ideas.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed, "I'm Going Away" by The Fiery Furnaces.
(Soundbite of music)
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I'm Terry Gross.