Eleanor Friedberger’s first words to us on her new long player Personal Record are “I don’t want to bother you”, and I believe her. She seems like the type of gal that would rather keep her business to herself. She seems like more the listening type than the talking type. Yet, when she gets going on this album -and even on her 2011 solo debut Last Summer- she can talk with the best of ’em. Coming from the weird and excellent Fiery Furnace‘s artsy musical experiments to the Brooklyn musical scene’s equivalent to Katrina and the Waves is quite a jump. A jump and musical change that fits Friedberger just fine.
There’s no seismic shift this time around for Eleanor Friedberger, yet there is a difference. It’s more about the pep in her step. There’s a decidedly tighter sound to Personal Record. It’s more Stax Records than Brill Building. A jumping off point from Last Summer to Personal Record would be Last Summer’s “Roosevelt Island”. That was a funky, upbeat number that would’ve been the big hit for Christie McVie had it been on Fleetwood Mac or Rumors. “When I Knew” is a poppy little number that feels like a great little story song that Ms. Friedberger does so well. The drums are crisper and the guitars hang in the mids which propels the song along like early 80s Motels. “I’ll Never Be Happy Again” is a middle-of-the-road kind of song that makes you stop and pay attention to the words. Kinda melancholy, kinda moody, with a great jangly guitar carrying the track along. “Stare At The Sun” should be the summer jam of 2013. Driving, fun, and catchy as hell. Here’s proof Eleanor Friedberger has a career after Blueberry Boat and Widow City. It’s the only time I’ve ever heard Tom Petty, Katrina and the Waves, and Thin Lizzy all in the same song. And yes, that is a compliment. “Echo or Encore” is a moody acoustic number that brings Wilco’s bonus track “Panthers’ to mind, with a slow-motion bossa nova acoustic guitar that gives the track a bit of Brazilian flavor. Eleanor Friedberger proves she can do twang with the best of ’em with the breezy “My Own World”. The album lags a bit in the middle a bit due to some singer/songwriter sleepiness before Friedberger pulls the Hall n’ Oates card with the “Maneater”-like “She’s A Mirror”, complete with a great horn section. Friedberger really shines when she pushes the energy level up, and there’s a lot of great bouncy moments on Personal Record. “Other Boys” carries us for six minutes before we reach the end with “Singing Time”. A beautiful and lilting track that would’ve been dynamite as a duet with Jim James. As it is, it’s still a damn fine song.
Eleanor Friedberger has more than proved that she can make great records without big brother Matthew. Last Summer was a hell of a start to a solo career. It was going to be a hard album to top. Personal Record continues the trend. Personal Record is Frieberger’s personal best.