On its release, Conor Furlong’s debut received a positive response from State’s Dave Donnelly who called Eternal “one of the understated pop gems” of 2008. With this followup, Furlong’s second bedroom-produced release, he extends his musical repertoire from electronic lo-fi compositions to much-more ambitious rock arrangements yet loses some of the charm along the way.
A common problem with records produced by one person is a lack of self-control. With that in mind our introduction to the brittle-voiced troubadour this time around is the overtly-long 7-minute track ‘Atlantis’ – a solemn piano and vocal piece which slowly gives way to some atmospheric strings and post-rock guitar. It’s an odd way to start an album as the song feels better suited to placement at the end, a denouement of sorts. The immediacy of ‘Wrong’ a guitar tune with an ’80s rock feel is a standout and the album sways between ballads like ‘Burn’ and ‘Enough’, the Coldplay-esque ‘Godless’, the live expansive sound of ‘The Preacher’, the Sea Change-era Beck sound of ‘Dry The Tears’ and the French cinematic of album closer ‘Endless Sky’.
What Furlong lacks is the ability to get the scalpel out and give the songs some surgical editing. Many of the album’s ten songs exist over the 5 minute mark and with a bit of precision could have been tightened up and given the album overall a more focused feel.
Furlong’s voice sounds best at its quietest and most gentle parts exemplified by the first half of ‘Enough’. When he stretches for those big swooping lines, his voice fails to reach the heights he’s reaching for and the result is an unpleasant warble. Add that to odd predictable lyrical couplet and the general MOR production and it becomes clear that Furlong would have been better off with a second opinion or a collaborative effort – at the very least an external producer. Playing With Fire often feels like it’s trying to grasp at a poignancy which these combined weaknesses won’t allow it to convey. Perhaps with others on board, Furlong’s music would be able to forge its own identity and become more impacting.
The second last song on Playing With Fire suggests an alternative still. More of an audio collage than a song, ‘The News’ features sirens, chants, news reports and politicial sound bites about Iraq and Bush, it’s like an imagined soundtrack to a particularly gruesome episode of ER. Perhaps if the music doesnt’ work out, this points the way for a potential career in composition for TV and film. Furlong should be commended for his big-sounding one man arrangements but he hasn’t quite mastered the other stuff just yet.