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Future Bible Heroes: Eternal Youth

Album: Eternal Youth
Label: Instinct

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Stephin Merritt's knack for devastatingly funny, quotable couplets has long earned him flattering comparisons, but when The Magnetic Fields released 69 Love Songs in 1999, it seemed almost mandatory for every review to reference Cole Porter. That name was bandied about with even more frequency in reference to The 6ths' twee, disappointing Hyacinths And Thistles, Merritt's most self-consciously Porter-like album to date. The music press seems understandably eager to anoint Merritt as Porter's heir, but the songwriter's idiosyncratic gifts have never been especially well served by the delicate arrangements and fragile melodies of his most Porter-like compositions. Instead, Merritt tends to flourish when he's working in less highbrow arenas, like the new-wave pseudo-country of The Magnetic Fields' 1994 album The Charm Of The Highway Strip, where he inhabited the soul of New York's saddest, funniest, wisest gay cowboy. Fans of Merritt's trashy, pop-culture-obsessed side should take to Eternal Youth, the latest album from his side project Future Bible Heroes. A concept album of the loosest sort, it features longtime collaborator Claudia Gonson singing songs from the perspective of vampires, ghouls, the undead, and various beasties, all of whom share Merritt's melancholy and his way with a one-liner. Gonson sings lead vocals on Eternal Youth, and Christopher Ewen wrote the music, but it's clear that Merritt is the primary artistic voice on songs like "I'm A Vampire," an irresistibly silly new-wave/doo-wop hybrid about the little-explored upside to being undead. ("I can turn into a bat / I can cast the evil eye / I have ever so much money / I'm gorgeous, and I can fly," Gonson deadpans.) On "Smash The Beauty Machine," Merritt returns triumphantly to the theme of agelessness and immortality, while other songs are immersed in a strain of Goth romanticism ironic and icky enough to accommodate tentacles, aliens, and talk of guillotines and bloody insurrections. Like many Merritt projects, Eternal Youth contains its share of filler, and might have worked better as an EP than as a proper album. Still, its transcendent moments should win it a place in the hearts of those who once viewed their Cure or Bauhaus shirts as shorthand for a world of pain and alienation, even if they now have the good sense to keep those shirts tucked deep within the closet.