Stephin Merritt has been a busy and prolific musician for about a quarter of a century, but the guy best known as the frontman for The Magnetic Fields might wish he had spent more time on his side project, Future Bible Heroes.
Then again, inattention and regret would be a perfect theme for a future Future Bible Heroes song.
The group’s new “Partygoing” is only its third full-length album, and its first since 2002’s “Eternal Youth.” The release shares characteristics of other Merritt projects – his baritone voice and morose wit among them – yet FBH delivers a dis-tinctive, refined pop air. Merritt shares lead vocal duties equally with Claudia Gonson (also of Magnetic Fields), and he de-fers much of the instrumental arrangements to his longtime collaborator Christopher Ewen.
Gonson embodies blissed-out sweetness, a sharp contrast to the often-despondent lyrics, and Ewen’s synth-dominated constructions create artful, spaced-out (and sometimes danceable) atmosphere.
The net result is the kind of droll, middle-age-crazies album you might expect from a group that grew up listening to The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees.
Gonson gets the ball rolling with the torchy introductory track, “A Drink Is Just the Thing,” offering, “I often find when I’m feeling low, a drink is just the thing.” Later, she apparently longs for death on the churning “Let’s Go to Sleep (And Never Come Back),” singing, “How do these things happen, when did we go wrong?” But again, this is gallows humor – made more apparent when she enthusiastically (if sarcastically) sings about “a new kind of life, just waiting for you” (on “A New Kind of Town”) and how she’s saving money by bringing about her own demise on the disco-flavored “Digging My Own Grave.”
Merritt is likewise casting sidelong glances on his lead-vocal tracks, whether he wonders, “Who would believe that I was once young?” (“Satan, Your Way Is a Hard One”) or suggests an unconventional way to protect kids on the up-tempo, “Keep Your Children in a Coma.” Then he proves absolutely disarming on “All I Care About Is You,” singing, “Suddenly I don’t wish I were dead anymore.”
“Partygoing” coincides with the release of a compilation of FBH’s work, including previous albums and EPs. Fans of Merritt who aren’t familiar with this quirky/smart act should check it out.
Rating: 4.5 stars (out of five)
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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