After The Fiery Furnaces went on hiatus in 2011, their main vocalist Eleanor Friedberger began her solo career with the impressive Last Summer, which described her move to New York the previous summer and largely told stories from around that time.
Friedberger has a refreshingly literal approach to album titles, and for her more introspective follow-up decided on Personal Record. Despite this title, the lyrics are often less specific than those found on her first album, which sadly doesn’t always work to the new album’s benefit. Though there are some great songs, the majority seem to wash over you with their simple arrangements and equally simple lyrics.
Other Boys contains the intriguing and possibly boastful line ‘How could any man resist a girl with such a big setlist?’ and When I Knew stands out both for its story about a girl dressed like Kevin Rowland and the album’s best line, the ambiguous ‘I couldn’t get her out of my head, so I got her out of hers instead’. These reveal how talented Friedberger can be when telling stories, rather than moping aimlessly in songs like the dreary Echo or Encore.
Musically, the album can be frustrating at times. Most songs on Personal Recordsorely miss the odd little flourishes of brass or synthesiser that lit up Last Summer, instead going for a more singer-songwriter sound that doesn’t quite make an impact. Who decided that for songs to be heartfelt and personal, they have to be hushed and on acoustic guitar? Intricate arrangements would also draw more attention to the lyrics.
I Am the Past isn’t hugely inspiring lyrically, but with clarinet and sparkling guitar it makes a much bigger statement. Even better is She’s a Mirror, easily the album’s best song, partially because of its triumphant saxophone solo. It also gets bonus points for mentioning a ‘record by Sparks’. I usually find token mentions of bands in songs a bit ‘some indie record that’s MUCH cooler than mine’, but because the song is so good, and because it is Sparks, it works really well.
This, along with the almost Wedding Present-like Stare at the Sun, shows how Personal Record is at its best when it’s being summery and brash rather than introspective and gloomy. The more heartfelt the record tries to be, the less interesting it gets. And herein lies the problem of an album entitled Personal Record. It’s likeable, clever and really easy to listen to, but it just needs a bit more bite.