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"Personal Record"

Eleanor Friedberger – Personal Record
11 June 2013, 12:30 Written by Alex Wisgard

When Eleanor Friedberger’s solo debut Last Summer came out in 2010, it sounded like a skittish, unreliable friend delivering on a long-ago-made promise to be there for you more often. Her work with the Fiery Furnaces – hell, the entire dynamic of the band – was too-often filtered through the the kaleidoscopic ramblings of her brother Matt, and Eleanor’s sultry Dylanesque purr had to fight to be heard over whatever restlessness went on underneath it. On Last Summer, Friedberger allowed herself and her music to breathe a little more – songs rode themselves out over little more than two chords and some killer hooks, whilst the lyrics (and the artwork, which showed her face for the first time) eschewed eccentricity and kept things simple, direct, honest and resonant.

Her new LP somehow manages to go one better on all counts. Let’s start with that fantastic record sleeve: the water looks like crystal, as Eleanor is making a tentative splash into the pool, and her arm is outstretched towards – yup, her Personal Record. Friedberger has repeatedly stated that she can’t believe no one has used the title for an album until now, and even before you open the shrinkwrap to the album (I refuse to make any concessions to downloading metaphors), you can see its use is justified.

There’s a confidence to Personal Record that shatters the tentativeness of its predecessor; sadly, logic still dictates that a soul-bearing album by any female songwriter should sound like Joni or Patti, but one spin of Personal Record casts shades of seventies cult titans like Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman, or a less spiteful Elvis Costello – albeit with a voice that is entirely Friedberger’s own. The almost tourist-like nature of the Fiery Furnaces’ music remains present, but it’s presented in a far more expansive manner – ‘Singing Time’ floats out of the speakers like an old folk song of unknown origin (at least until the references to loud amps and faulty guitar leads put it squarely in the modern age), while the rambling mundana of ‘My Own World’ – key line: “clichés have taken on a shocking new meaning” – paints watercolour flute flourishes over a shuffling beat.

And then, my god, there are the straight-up pop songs. The propulsive ‘Stare at the Sun’ is bound to be an indie disco classic, as Friedberger rhapsodises on the joys of an uncertain relationship (“Give me your toothpaste, give me your ointment, give me your body in bed”), and the bouncy ‘She’s a Mirror’ skips out of the speakers at a blissful clip that entirely warrants its unexpected (and not at all unwelcome) saxophone break. Meanwhile, ‘When I Knew’ – the best three minutes that Stuart Murdoch never got around to writing – is a frontrunner for the year’s best song, following a girl-crush across the globe. The lyrical detail, from Halloween costume mockery (“she was wearing a pair overalls, so I sang ‘Come On, Eileen’ – I was being slightly mean”) to tracking down another copy of a record they both loved (“I scoured London for a replacement – I found it cheap in an Oxford Street basement”), is absolutely pitch-perfect, right down to its gloriously autosuggestive pay-off line. There are essays to be written on songs like this, but you don’t need me to write one here.

Most solo efforts delivered nine albums into a career leave you pining for the glory days of an artist’s former work. Well, for want of a more delicate way to put it – fuck that noise. In Personal Record, Eleanor Friedberger has delivered on every promise she’s ever made with her music, and come up with an ever-unfolding, fully-realised gem.

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