Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Magnetic Fields vs. Future Bible Heroes

Images taken from (left) and (right)

As I mentioned on Monday, I recently acquired a copy of Partygoing by the Future Bible Heroes. And, as it turns out, it probably should have been on my 'Best of 2013 So Far' list. Sadly, I put together that list before I'd listened to this album, so tough luck Merritt et al.

Now I'm a huge fan of The Magnetic Fields, but until this week I knew very little about Future Bible Heroes, one of Stephin Merritt's many, many side projects. For one thing, I wasn't really sure of the difference between FBH and the Mags themselves. They certainly have a lot of things in common: Stephin writes the songs, he and Claudia Gonson share the vocal duties, each track is littered with synthesisers and broken hearts, et cetera, et cetera.

So what is the difference between The Magnetic Fields and Future Bible Heroes? Well, if we're just talking about their most recent releases, then it's simply this: Future Bible Heroes have better songs. Love at the Bottom of the Sea, the last Mags album, was good fun, but it was a bit clever for its own good at times. Stephin Merritt has said in the past that sincerity has absolutely no place in his songs, but he knows how to tug at the heartstrings (even if he doesn't really mean it) and the affecting, emotional numbers that The Magnetic Fields are usually so good at were all but absent from LatBotS (heh, 'latbots'). Instead, we got smirking humour, subverted rhymes, and a generous helping of goofiness. It felt a little throwaway compared to previous glories, and the highlights were the songs that still had a little bit of longing and melancholy comin' thro' the wry. This was one of my favourites:

See? It's still rife with wordplay, but beneath the cleverness lies a sad little tale of unrequited love in the shape of a triangle.

Partygoing, ironically, sounds more like a classic Magnetic Fields album than the last Magnetic Fields album did. Sure, Merritt's trademark sense of humour is still present, but songs like Keep Your Children in a Coma manage to be funny without ruining a good tune. Where LatBotS sometimes felt laboured, like everybody was trying a little too hard to be funny, Partygoing strikes a balance between cleverness and actual emotion.  It sounds more like the Magnetic Fields of old; there's even a song with the word 'moon' in the title!*

I haven't said much about the actual songs yet, have I? Almost all of them are knockouts, but my personal favourites are Sadder Than the Moon, All I Care About is You (which contains a breakdown in the middle that reminds me of I Think I Need a New Heart from 69 Love Songs), and the life-affirming Living, Loving, Partygoing. Anthem of the summer, methinks:

So it's a cracking album, and if you take a look to the right-hand side of the page, you'll see that it's ousted Fang Island's Major as my current favourite. I've already got all the Magnetic Fields albums, which has been a source of great sadness for some time, so I'm exceedingly eager to investigate the FBH back catalogue.

One final note: I couldn't blog about Partygoing without mentioning the astounding and entirely unexpected David Bowie impression that pops up in Drink Nothing But Champagne. Seriously, have a listen:

*Once upon a time, every song Stephin Merritt wrote contained a reference to the moon. Check out the fabulous Stephin Songs for a comprehensive (if slightly out-of-date) list.

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