The second Handsome Furs album has barely been out a week, and I’m already sick of reading about how it improves on its predecessor. Sure, it’s different, in somewhat the same way Bob Dylan’s electric rock differed from his early folk (no, I didn’t just compare Dan Boeckner, “second” songwriter for Wolf Parade, to Dylan; it’s just a useful analogy). But better? I think not.
First Furs disc Plague Park shined not in spite of, but because of its simplicity. Its nine songs feature spare arrangements lightly layered with synth and mechanized drumming (courtesy of Boeckner’s wife, Alexei Perry), leaving ample space for Boeckner’s taut vocals and insistent guitar leads to rule the day.
Face Control finds Boeckner reaching, not here and there, ut everywhere, for grandiosity. He succeeds in spots—“All We Want, Baby, Is Everything,” for example, pushes its poppy rock into your face without losing the warmth at the center of Boeckner’s best tunes. Mostly, though, the songcrafting shift costs the Furs their very identity: “Talking Hotel Arbat Blues” sounds like a knockoff from Springsteen’s Nebraska, while hapless first single “I’m Confused” could be Boeckner singing Cars karaoke.
Three short but showy instrumental pieces augment the sense of needless commotion, leaving me to wonder why Boeckner abandoned good ol’ heart and soul this time around. To paraphrase from first-disc cut “What We Had,” apparently what he had didn’t mean a thing—to him, at least.