The Fiery Furnaces

The Fiery Furnaces EP

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An EP virtually in name only, the Fiery Furnaces' B-sides collection is pretty generous, gathering ten tracks and running 41 minutes (which is relatively short compared to their 80-minute epic, Blueberry Boat). It's not a totally complete collection of their odds 'n' sods, which may frustrate fans still looking for the band's cover of the Clash's "One More Time" that appeared on Uncut Magazine's tribute to the legendary punks, or for the honky tonk-inspired version of "We Got Back the Plague" that appeared on the CD release of the U.K. Tropical Ice-Land single. However, what does appear on EP not only reflects how well the Furnaces' B-sides complement their albums, it also makes an enjoyable and fairly coherent mini-album in its own right. The Blueberry Boat-era material is particularly remarkable, offering a more concise, poppier spin on the album's sprawling sound. The adaptation of the traditional "Single Again" was Blueberry Boat's putative single, since the album's suite-like songs weren't exactly chart-friendly; its menacing yet playful synth intro echoes the album's feel, but the song's energy has some of the headlong rush of their earlier work. Its B-side, "Evergreen," is just as whimsical but surprisingly sweet and pretty; along with the gorgeous new track "Here Comes the Summer" -- which makes waiting for summer seem better than the real thing -- it's one of the band's most emotionally direct songs. "Sing for Me" is another delight: with its tale of a seafaring father and his daughter waiting at home, it's a charming reminder that the Fiery Furnaces are just as handy with short stories as they are with novels. In the context of this collection, the hyper-pop version of "Tropical Ice-Land" sounds less startling than it did following Gallowsbird's Bark; the rest of the B-sides from that album's singles are weirder and more fractured, and, especially in the case of the cryptic, loose-limbed "Cousin Chris" and the elaborate storytelling of "Smelling Cigarettes," feel a bit like dress rehearsals for Blueberry Boat's expansiveness. The previously unreleased "Sullivan's Social Slub" takes the band's playful side to an extreme, distilling the Furnaces' penchant for whimsical wordplay, abundant alliteration, and unexpected musical twists and juxtapositions into caricature (but not in a bad way). Based on EP, it's easy to see why hardcore fans think that some of the band's best material is on its B-sides. Though the Fiery Furnaces are a very distinctive-sounding band, they're a versatile one too, and this collection shows, once again, how cleverly they mix their pop and experimental impulses.

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