part of what I admire, love and am always delighted by in Stephin
Merritts work (he pronounces his first name "Stephen"
by the way) is his combination of work ethic and artistic restlessness.
Most people are happy to make CDs of nine or ten half way decent
songs that sound sort of similar. Stephin makes an album with 69
songs on, and theyre all different.
Hes the Magnetic Fields (which began as him writing songs
for a female singer, then transmuted into several versions of just
him, and is now a four -piece band with three extra singers and
the best-selling accordion player in the world). Hes the Gothic
Archies, the funniest, gently-darkest one-person band there is.
Hes the visionary behind the Sixths, writing songs for famous
people to sing, who arent him.
And he used to be half, and is now, suddenly and surprisingly, a
third, of the Future Bible Heroes, his ongoing and occasional collaboration
with Boston DJ and composer Chris Ewen. Theyve made one full-length
CD and one EP in the past, and if I was to describe the stuff theyve
already done as high-energy dance music with morbid and ironic lyrics
Id be off the mark, but not by too much.
Now, however, through the process of reinvention that exemplifies
everything that Stephin gets involved in, the Future Bible Heroes
are back. The same, only completely different.
As before, the process began with Chris Ewen, spinning aural webs
that run the whole gamut from full-blown dance-floor pulses to haunting
fragments of the kind of music that might be played in a haunted
dolls house. He then handed what hed made to Stephin,
who teased melodies out of the soundscapes, or imposed them, and
then wrote a sequence of songs which might have escaped from some
Twilight Zone, or from a 24 hour marathon of fifties SF, horror,
fantasy and historical movies. He writes lyrics that would be astonishing
from anyone else, but are more or less expected from Stephin. So
far, sort of usual.
Then he gave the songs to Claudia Gonson to sing. Claudia used to
play percussion for the Magnetic Fields, then became their keyboard
player. She was one of the two female singers on 69 Love Songs
her voice is clear, pure, plangent and precise. (She sang I
want a Zebra. She sang Acoustic Guitar.) She makes
singing sound simple. (I like Claudias voice. You can tell.)
Its the first time one woman has been the exclusive voice
of a CD of Stephins songs since the first two Magnetic Fields
albums, and this is, of course, completely different from that.
The result is a very different Future Bible Heroes.
The cover photographs for Eternal Youth show images that ought to
be kitsch, or camp, but arent. Theyre art. The CD manages
the same trick, if trick it is, with songs that range from "I'm
A Vampire" to "The World Is A Disco Ball". Imagine
Claudia alternately singing and rapping like Debbie Harry used to,
about the joys of vampirism: I never age and I'll never die/Unlike
all the stars in the sky/I'll be young forever and why?/'Cause I'm
a vampire, she explains, cheerfully. She will drink your blood
like beer. In 1977 Vampire would have been an international
hit, and people would have bitten each others necks under
the glitter-ball lights. Hell, it may happen yet.
Kiss Me Only With Your Eyes, is similarly a song out
of time. This story of unfrustrated eternal virginity and romance
would have been the international smash hit in 1874. Its still
funny and sad today.
Doris Daytheearthstoodstill is a straightforward song
about loving the alien, an artefact from a retro 50s future, while
From Some Dying Star might be a song about a visitor
from another world, or it may be that its just about lusting
after what you cant have or wont get.
And I havent even mentioned Losing Your Affection,
which is the funny one that kicks off the CD with lyrics that will
be quoted in all the reviews, or Viennese Lift which
is my favourite of all the Chris Ewen fragments -- its like
LOW period Bowie and Eno writing music for Wednesday Addams
Itll be out within the next few months. The band gave me an
advanced copy, and told me they didnt mind me writing something
about it here. Which is good, as I just have. 16 cool as polar bear
tracks, 6 of which are Chris Ewen instrumentals.
his online journal