Getting Into Blueberry Boat

Who the heck are we listening to, anyway? It sounds like the Who writing music for ADD kids.

Dora Bianchi, Questionable Content

There are some albums you listen to once and just know you're going to love them. Blueberry Boat, by the Fiery Furnaces, is not one of those albums, not remotely. It's not because it doesn't have catchy moments, because it does. It's just that there are so many apparently completely disparate moments, motifs and riffs that it's impossible to tell if any of them will ever end up rattling around in your head and driving you insane in that way you love so much.

Hint: Yes. Lots of them will.

But on your first listen, and probably to a lesser extent your second through tenth or twentieth listens as well, it will all just seem a bit overwhelming. The first song, "Quay Cur," is ten and a half minutes long. That's not too bad, really. The noises that go on for two minutes at the beginning? Maybe they're just having a little fun with the synths; it's not like the beat changes at all. After the lyric starts, it becomes evident that while Blueberry Boat might have leanings that are "experimental" or "progressive" or some other bullshit term like that, it's really just kind of weird and whimsical and maybe not that intimidating after all, at least until six minutes in when Eleanor Friedberger starts singing in goddamned Inuit! What the hell!

Okay. Okay. Really, you have to just try to maybe ignore the lyrics in order to start getting into Blueberry Boat. Lots of the songs are long, granted. There are moments, usually several per song, where there's almost an audible creaking of gears as you're thrown into a completely different section of the song with little to no transition. And sure, there's dissonance and tempo changes and weird synthesizer sounds and seemingly random melodies and guitar solos. But while these things stand out at first, they're the exception, not the rule. Most of the songs are built around almost childishly simple, catchy melodies and themes and leitmotifs which are repeated while the keyboards and guitars and drums swirl chaotically around them.

Like, say, "My Dog Was Lost but Now He's Found" and "Straight Street," two songs that are practically just verse/chorus ad nauseam with Yellow Submarine-simple melodies and off-the-wall instrumentation. These songs, along with the final trio of shorter tunes, are the most likely to grab you.

The growers are the epic monster rock-opera-esque songs, the ones that are intimidating at first, including the aforementioned "Quay Cur," the title track "Blueberry Boat," the wacky high school soap opera romp "Chris Michaels," the cynical "Mason City," and the ADHD-inspired wannabe detective story "Chief Inspector Blancheflower," which I think is the album's finest moment.

What to make of these? "Quay Cur" and "Blueberry Boat" are nautically inspired, and probably the most cohesive of the long tracks in that they have very obvious recurring musical themes that help to bring everything together. "Chris Michaels" and "Mason City" each sound like about six songs jammed into one, but at least those six songs are kind of similar in mood. "Chief Inspector Blancheflower" sounds like three completely different songs hacked together in a way that somehow manages to work, at least for me.

The catchy little riffs in the longer songs wouldn't hold up well to being expanded upon for seven-plus minutes. Fortunately, they're not. The hyperactive short-attention-span way in which these songs are written ensures that nothing in them wears out its welcome. I don't know of any other band that's managed to make this many songs that are this long without getting boring at some point (although I'm not saying such a band doesn't exist). Say what you will about Blueberry Boat, but it's never boring.

That makes it easier to get into it. Blueberry Boat merits many, many listens, which would just be unbearable if it was a boring album. It may seem impossible on that first listen, but it will start to grab you. If you like picking things apart, that's where the real fun begins.

Bottom Line: Blueberry Boat is a beautiful disease, and you require infection. MOTHERFUCKING PROG-BLUES ROCK OPERA IN UNDERWATER SPACE. YOU. REQUIRE. INFECTION.

Someone on the Internet, no one seems to know who. Blueberry Boat: A Fiery Furnaces Fansite attributes it to Joshua Sharp of Pitchfork Media.

Making Way Too Big A Deal About Blueberry Boat

Chock full of oblique narrative, layered vintage synths, and more great rock silliness per square measure than anything produced by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer: the Fiery Furnaces' Blueberry Boat is, like Nabokov's Pale Fire, a major work of art begging for interpretation.

Hayden Childs, "No Bolts From the Blueberry."

Blueberry Boat wouldn't be such a great album if it were just a bunch of catchy riffs and musical non sequiturs. I'd hesitate to compare it to Nabokov, but there's certainly a lot of story there for anyone willing to make sense of the lyrics (and, in some cases, the music) and find it.

If you don't listen that closely, you'd think these are simplistic kids' stories, like I did at first. The lyrics are almost entirely in couplets, so they end up sounding like a Dr. Seuss book. Virtually every part of every song is in 4/4, the most elementary and familiar of all time signatures. Overall, the music has such a naive feel that it seems only natural that the subject matter would be straightforward, no matter how obliquely presented. But then maybe you'll hear a line like "You whore you bitch she said, well that serves her right," from "Chris Michaels," or "And then at dawn I had a scotch and made them switch off the porn / 'Cause there's nothing that's dirty 'bout the ocean in the morn" from "Blueberry Boat," indicating that in spite of all outward appearances, maybe this album isn't really for kids.

Some of these lyrics are way more difficult to make sense of than others, but none of them are really crystal clear. Just like you can probably find a few musical hooks that will snag you, though, there will probably be some lyrics you'll find particularly compelling. For some maybe they'll be "A looby, a lordant, a loggerhead, lozel / a lungio lathback made me a proposal" from "Quay Cur" because of the impenetrability and alliteration. Or you might like "I'll jump in the undertow penguin paddle and drown in my wedding gown," from "Birdie Brain," for its wacky, beautiful, morbid imagery. Personally, I'm partial to the juvenile, catty colloquialism of "You're so so stup / It's all disrup / You blah blah this this that so now sh'up / You messed me up" from "Chris Michaels." As with the music, there's enough diversity in the lyrics that it's hard not to find something to like.

In any case, though, none of these lyrics make much sense in a vacuum. Soon maybe you'll be discovering new reasons to like songs you were leery of before because of their lyrics. In particular, the three parts of "Chief Inspector Blancheflower" really don't fit together at all until you look at the lyrics. And then there's the heartbreaking left turn at the end of the otherwise utterly perplexing "1917" and the charming dose of meta-music in "Wolf Notes." Some other questions to consider:

  • Is it just a coincidence that "Quay Cur" is a homophone for "Quaker?" It can't be. Can it?
  • Whoa! What happens to the main character at the end of the title track "Blueberry Boat?"
  • Who the hell is Chris Michaels, anyway? Is he even in that song?
  • Where did her dog go?
  • Is the Jenny in "Chief Inspector Blancheflower" the same as the Jenny in "Chris Michaels?"
  • While I'm on the subject: how much of Blueberry Boat is a single story? Do the songs share storylines at all, or is each one self-contained?
  • Oh, and what's "1917" about? Seriously, I have no idea.

Sorry if I'm sounding like the questions at the end of a short story in a high school English textbook here, but these are some of the questions that I found most compelling, the ones that made me want to go spend way too much time looking up information about Blueberry Boat so I could share the glee in as informed a way as possible.

You're welcome. Now buy the God damned CD!

Track List and Downright Fascinating (External) Links

  1. Quay Cur (10:25)
  2. Straight Street (5:00)
  3. Blueberry Boat (9:09)
  4. Chris Michaels (7:53)
  5. Paw Paw Tree (4:39)
  6. My Dog Was Lost But Now He's Found (3:29)
  7. Mason City (8:14)
  8. Chief Inspector Blancheflower (8:58)
  9. Spaniolated (3:21)
  10. 1917 (4:52)
  11. Birdie Brain (3:05)
  12. Turning Round (2:13)
  13. Wolf Notes (4:51)

First, a page with the lyrics to every song on Blueberry Boat. As far as I can tell, the lyrics are accurate, and there's also a nice discussion forum there.

Excellent, detailed, intricate, doubtlessly staggeringly time-consuming song-by-song analyses of Fiery Furnaces lyrics. And thank God, because I wasn't about to do this even if I thought I could. These make it apparent that I wasn't just making shit up when I told you that it's easy to make a big deal out of Blueberry Boat. This one is from Clap Clap Blog; it contains the analysis of "Mason City" and links to other songs, with some Special Bonus Extras.

And this one's from The High Hat; it's a single article with a narration of sorts for each song. It's also got several different "Grand Unified Blueberry Boat Theories," at the end, with explanations of each one. The second quote in this node is also from here.

Sources of Fiery Furnaces and/or Blueberry Boat-related quotes and amusement, from which I got the first and last quotes in this node, respectively.

Whomever you choose to die will die painfully. So, should you allow your girlfriend to live, simply out of love for her? Or should you allow The Fiery Furnaces to live, so that the world might hear a follow-up LP to 2004's "Blueberry Boat?"

Pretty Girl, "Your Favorite Rock Band Or Your Girlfriend Day"

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