By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Like The Magnetic Fields, the Gothic Archies, and The 6ths, Future Bible Heroes is just another alias for songwriter Stephin Merritt and whomever he happens to be collaborating with at the moment. In the case of Future Bible Heroes, that means longtime co-conspirator Claudia Gonson (his partner on pretty much every project to date) and Christopher Ewen, former member of '80s synth-pop obscurity Figures on a Beach. But whatever role Merritt assumes in each outfit (lyrics and most of the vocals here, the music on 6ths' records, pretty much everything on Magnetic Fields' discs), every song is uniquely his. Which is to say, no matter what style his music takes--and on last year's three-disc box o' tunes 69 Love Songs, they took just about every one imaginable--they all sound like Stephin Merritt songs.
Though Merritt's assumed identities are around to allow him free rein, he never needs it. Each album from Merritt is like a Woody Allen film: Whether it's comedy, drama, or somewhere in between, it's still the same voice. So it doesn't really matter whether the accompaniment is provided by Merritt and his trusty ukulele or, as it is here, Ewen's dated keyboards; as long as the lyrics come courtesy of Merritt's bleakly humorous cynicism, the song's a keeper. And perhaps no song represents that maxim as well as the disc-opening title track. Over the sort of backing track Vince Bell might lazily come up with while finishing his morning crossword, Merritt croons in his impossibly deep voice, happily wallowing in newfound freedom. Less than a minute in, the disc has already been summed up: "It's the strangest thing, I'm sad and I don't care / And I'm dancing on air."
What remains are three new efforts and a remix of a song ("Hopeless") off 1997's sparkling Memories of Love, all of which do little more than strengthen the point Merritt makes with "I'm Lonely (And I Love It)." And one of the new tracks, "My Blue Hawaii," is more notable for Ewen's Fatboy Slim impersonation. (Actually, it's more of an impression of every British DJ that has attempted to cop from Norman Cook, but why quibble.) Do they add to his reputation as peerless songwriter, the man with the map to the secret passageway between the Brill Building and Tin Pan Alley? Save for "I'm Lonely," not really. Maybe "Good Thing I Don't Have Any Feelings," and its ability to be shallow and kinda-sorta deep at once ("You took your eyes away / And your amazing hair / You took the sky away / And all the breathable air") deserves inclusion as well. Which is the only problem with dependable displays of brilliance: Being great just isn't good enough anymore.
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