The Fiery Furnaces Get Inscrutable


With the Fiery Furnaces, live performance is the juice: a public-setting-as- laboratory proposition wherein principal sibs Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger (along with whoever’s sharing space in the touring van, including, sometimes, Sebadoh’s Jason Lowenstein) can play Operation with the band’s constantly mushrooming catalog of art-rock test subjects. The late Marcel Duchamp famously left The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even “unfinished”; the Friedbergers subscribe to a similar aesthetic of perpetual incompletion, which explains why the bootleg market for live Furnaces MP3s is thriving. Anything can happen to, say, “Navy Nurse” under the harsh, unrelenting glow of hot stage lights: instrumental addition or subtraction, lyrical decimation, melodic bleaching, breakneck medley conscription. “Navy Nurse” might be your favorite Fiery Furnaces song, but in concert, you might not even recognize it.

While Remember finally cashes in on and officially immortalizes this unhealthy appetite for deconstruction, the two-disc whirligig sometimes doubles as a Furnaces-specific Don’t Forget the Lyrics home game. Recognizing “Inca Rag/Name Game” is a matter of placing Eleanor’s shaggy “I was listening to classic VH when I pulled a H Singh” ejaculation, because the blooze-guitar jerks have been replaced with paranoid keyboard epilepsy. “Forty-Eight Twenty-Three Twenty-Second Street” gets similar treatment, only with a much livelier time signature. Infidelity soap opera “Chris Michaels” retains its complex, multi-suite swirl, but the barnstorming synth hook that powered gambling-outta-control travelogue “Borneo” becomes a muted whimper. Elsewhere, the Friedbergers’ revisionist urge emerges in forms both compelling and defeatist. Shuffling together cross-sections of loose-lady admonition “Don’t Dance Her Down” (“Her man’s in town”) and marital-discord anthem “Single Again” (“He beat me and banged me/He swore he would hang me”)? A genius narrative juxtaposition, or at least a frantic but nifty hotfooting of perspectives. But compressing “Chief Inspector Blancheflower” from eight carefully crafted minutes down to a clogged and spotty two seems wantonly cruel, even masochistic. Then again, maybe there’s about as much point trying to ascribe rhyme and reason to Remember as there is in demanding linearity from the Furnaces’ catalog as a whole.