Eleanor Friedberger – Personal Record
Free from The Fiery Furnaces, Eleanor Friedberger’s first solo album was a paean to New York City. Better than a Baedeker, she told us intimate stories of a city she loves. Her second solo album is equally intimate, but the themes are broader. This time she writes the lyrics with John Wesley Harding and perhaps the biggest compliment is that it’s nigh-on impossible to determine who contributed what. More than that, the collaboration generates some nice puzzles. On ‘When I Knew’, Eleanor sings about a woman she keeps hooking up with. “Well I couldn’t get her out of my head”, she says, “So I got her out of hers instead, I know I couldn’t get her out of my head, And then we ended up in …”. Are they John Wesley Harding’s lyrics. Is that why she doesn’t sing the last word? Or are they Eleanor Friedberger’s? In one sense, who cares? The ambiguity is what works. Only at times do the themes get stretched a little too far. On ‘Echo Or Encore’ the full-length music analogy loses its appeal early on. And ‘I Am The Past’ sounds just a little too hippy-dippy to be a true Eleanor Friedberger song. Is that really a flute solo? But this is a fine record. The songs rush by. There are no attempts at lush orchestration. Everything is pretty much pared back to guitar, synths and percussion, but it doesn’t feel cold or empty or cheap. There are moments of pure Stephen Malkmus in the guitar work. ‘My Own World’ being a nice example. Other songs have some great hooks. ‘I’ll Never Be Happy Again’ and ‘Tomorrow Tomorrow’ both get a grip on the mind. In the end, though, the best thing about a Eleanor Friedberger solo album is that it could only be an Eleanor Friedberger solo album. There are plenty of musical influences from 70s soft-rock to indie guitar bands, but the mix of the distinctively dry delivery and the authentically personal stories make it sound unique. And that’s always a good thing.