08 November 2007


“Inspector Blancheflower” by The Fiery Furnaces which clocks in at 8:58

Right right, here's the deal. I've entrusted my good friend Kevin with this week's installment of 8+, knowing full well that his unerring love of pithy two-minute pop songs would provide a delicious dose of dramatic irony from which to dissect 538 seconds of Friedberger weirdness. Kevin, what say you?

First, a hearty thanks to my buddies Matt and Mike for giving me an occasion to ramble about music. Second, I'd like to abuse their trust by writing what is now a time honored blogging custom, a conspiracy theory. Matt is not "on vacation". He is picketing. He heard something about a "writer's strike", flew into a rage of solidarity, and joined the jokesters from the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. There, I said it.

Finally, a disclaimer: I do not like long songs. To me, they are a form of torture. I do not like formless jams featuring extended solos from everyone in the band. I do not like sonic experiments showcasing the band's ability to turn knobs on their new equipment. I do not like listening to long periods of mind-numbing drum loops, repeating vamps, or kraut-rock. I do not like self-important epics that build and build and build only to reveal the lyricists totally revelatory philosophy. I do not like Pete Townshend-style "I have some good ideas for songs, but I'm going to be lazy and string them together and people will think its some sort of opera or something" collages. I do not like them. A song must have a legitimate reason to be so long; if you can't express yourself in five minutes, why should I give you ten?

I know what you're thinking: There have to be times when long songs are appropriate. Perhaps when you're listening by yourself? I would not listen to them by myself. Would you listen to them in a car? I would not, could not, in a car. Would you, could you in the rain? I would not, could not in the rain. Not in the dark. Not on a train. Not in a car. Not in a tree. I do not like them. Not in a house. Not in a box. Not with a mouse. Not with a fox. I will not listen to them here or there. I do not like them anywhere!

Well, I'm willing to admit there are a few exceptions. Even the New York Times bends its editorial standards every once in a while to publish a phrase like "ass burger". And if they can do it for an ass burger, then I can do it for a fried burger.

Friedberger, that is, as in Matthew and Eleanor, collectively known as The Fiery Furnaces. I love the stuff. I can listen to their marathon numbers and not feel like I'm stuck in a dentist's waiting room. For example, when I throw on Blueberry Boat, I don't even realize that I'm listening an album with four songs that qualify for 8+.

But why? We must get to the bottom of this, if only to help me rationalize my transgressions. For the sake of narrowing it down, I'll focus on my favorite, the importantly named "Chief Inspector Blancheflower".

If I had to sort "B-flower" into one of the circles of hell mentioned earlier, I'd group it with the other multi-semi-songs-clumsily-strung-together offenders. Comprised of three distinct songs, it starts with a syncopated electronic piece with Matthew talk-singing a collection of fun-sounding phrases ("In the resource room Mrs. Petorsky re-enforced me"); shifts to a new-wave stomper sung by Eleanor showcasing synth, piano and man-at-war-with-guitar solo; and closing with a satisfyingly straight forward number best described as a post-Billy Joel show tune.

But it works. Not because each of the parts is good (they are), but because there is absolutely nothing lazy about this songwriting; the parts fit together into a cohesive whole, it's rewarding, and there's enough going on musically that it can hold my attention over an extended time. It's packed with a seemingly endless assortment of interesting sounds, melodies, voices, and phrases. It leaves me asking myself: How the hell do you write a song like this? And, if given the impulse, why would you?

You do it because otherwise you'd be wasting listeners' time. It's a success because it is worth the time investment. It's enjoyable on the first listen and subsequent spins always seem to reveal something new.

Especially lyrically. It's like a word search. I've found intoxicants available at the market (Woodchuck cider, Amstel Light) and those requiring prescription (Dexedrine, OxyContin). I've found details about self-employment in the characters' families (Jenny's dad has a bakery, the narrator's uncle has a business machine remediation outfit). So far, I've only found one new word (fratricider), but I'll continue to look.

There is a story in there somewhere, I have long been sure of it. However, until today, I had never troubled myself to figure it out (you know, as in "reading the lyrics"). My original plan was to study the lyrics close so that I could explain what was going on. But if I'm too lazy and scatterbrained to entertain songs that last over five minutes, it then logically follows that I wouldn't have the will to explicate anything more complicated than "Wine is fine but liquor is quicker."

Luckily there is a strong correlation between the people willing to do such things and those contributing things to the internet. Having scoured the web, I've read a good bit about the song. I've weighed quality writing in equal amounts with dubious material, and I've prepared the following FAQ.

Q. What's up with the narrator?

A. A child of our times, the narrator suffers from attention deficit disorder, an affliction that has made schoolwork and several career choices difficult. That's what the first part is all about (and why it's so disjointed).

Q. In the first part, the vocal take is terrible and the arrangement is as obtuse as possible.

A. That wasn't a question. That's a statement from Matthew Friedberger.

Q. Who's Chief Inspector Blancheflower?

A. Presumably, the narrator in one of his ADHD enabled daydreams. He imagines himself as a fancy detective investigating a guy who had killed his brother and his wife in a kind of murder binge two-for-one sale.

Q. Where is this taking place?

A. Depending what part of the song and whom you believe, either in 19th century Scotland or the narrator's head. Or both. Or neither.

Q. So where is this Springfield he drives off to?

A. Springfield is inside all of us, friends. It's also where his brother Michael and ex-girlfriend Jenny live.

Q. Ex-girlfriend? I thought they were still together.

A. You know damn well she ain't his girlfriend no more.

Q. Does he kill them?

A. From the best I can tell, no. My only evidence is a double homicide would have been good for another six or seven minutes.

Q. How does it end?

A. With the narrator grabbing a drink. After all that goes on in this song, he needs one. And, having listed to a nine minute song on repeat for the better part of an afternoon, so do I.

*above image found
HERE Buy Blueberry Boat on Amazon/on iTunes.

EAR FARM's 8+ is a weekly feature that showcases songs longer than 8 minutes. In the recent past these songs were featured on EF's 8+:

Bauhaus - "Bela Lugosi's Dead"
Morrissey - "Moon River"
Miles Davis - "So What”
Tori Amos - "Yes, Anastasia"
Boduf Songs - “Bell for Harness”
8 Bold Souls - "Odyssey"
Artanker Convoy - "Open Up"
Dan Deacon - "Wham City"

To see a full list of every song featured in EAR FARM's 8+
click HERE.