This album has completely exceeded all expectations. My background with this band is: Gallowsbirds Bark: LOVE IT, EP: LOVE IT, Blueberry Boat: HATE IT, Bitter Tea: LUKEWARM, Grandma Album: NEVER HEARD IT.
Here I was hoping for a return to the more straightforward and rocking Gallowsbirds Bark/EP type of stuff, but this is even better... they've somehow managed to take all of the freaky weird prog stuff, meld it with some dirty guitar and raw banging drums, and produced this: an endless cornucopia of tweaked-out curio that walks the perfect line between out there and in there. The weirdness has now been taken to a whole new level. Like Michael Jackson surpasses the bad barrier to become good again, the Fiery Furnaces have surpassed the weird barrier to become... Im not sure, but it just seems a LOT more palatable now.
It probably has to do with the guitar: Bitter Tea suffered from a lack of it. They also seem to have gotten a better grip on song lengths: both Bitter Tea and Blueberry Boat suffered from songs that went on at least 2 or 3 minutes too long. The genre hopping is still intact, but it's way more fun this time around: at points, Widow City almost sounds like Ween cubed, complete with kooky slowed-down vocals (but less the overuse of backwards ones, thankfully).
One thing I disagree with that I've read in other reviews is that this album should be enjoyed in small doses. NO WAY! To me, this needs to be listened to in its entirety, preferably on a good set of headphones. The centerpiece as I hear it is "Navy Nurse", it builds up to that point, and then the chorus kicks in and it's pure bliss. Right there it just smacks you over the head how sweet this stuff is, and that's not to say that "Navy Nurse" is the best song... in fact, there really isn't a weak song to be found here.
My only complaint with Widow City is the way it ends. The abrupt ending doesn't work for me here.... a drawn out chord would have been better, allowing a few seconds to digest this aural feast.