The primary question of Partygoing, the new album from the Stephin Merritt side project Future Bible Heroes, is nestled in the wonderfully titled “Satan, Your Way Is A Hard One”: “Who would believe that I was naive? / Who would believe I was once young?”
Indeed, much of Partygoing is preoccupied with aging in a world obsessed with youth. This is not only familiar territory for Merritt (whose other acts include The 6ths, The Gothic Archies, and his main gig, Magnetic Fields), but also for Future Bible Heroes, whose last LP was titled Eternal Youth and featured the song “From Some Dying Star,” which practically asked, “Who are these beautiful young people?”
Eleven years later, the three Future Bible Heroes—Merritt, Magnetic Field cohort Claudia Gonson, and keyboardist-DJ Christopher Ewen—are still asking variations of that question. On the very funny “Keep Your Children In A Coma,” Old Man Merritt wonders what’s the matter with kids today: “Life is hard for kids today, they have to program everything / Dude, they have to use computers just to sing.” He then proceeds to list, to a bouncy beat and chirping synths, the dangers that face these hellions, including melanoma, abusive priests, and “all that background radiation.” In other words, what is the world coming to? Also, get off of Stephin Merritt’s lawn! This being a Merritt project, there’s heartbreak and sadness for every moment of irony (the lovely, bittersweet ballad “Sadder Than The Moon” more than lives up to its title). All of this darkness, however, is brightened by howlingly funny lyrics and some genuine surprises. The sprightly “Living, Loving, Partygoing” is a catalog of nightlife adventures, including a party hosted by John Waters and a one-night stand with a clown. On the ebullient “Drink Nothing But Champagne,” Jesus resurrects himself to give the titular advice (as well as “Don’t drink the water, ’cause water’s mostly piss”). He’s followed by Merritt as David Bowie and, for some reason, writer and occultist Aleister Crowley, who growls, “We don’t drink water in the ninth circle of Hell” like a sloshed Cookie Monster.
Not everything here works—the plodding “How Very Strange” and “A Drink Is Just The Thing” bog the record down—but those looking for a Magnetic Fields fix could do worse than the breezy Partygoing. Its best track, “All I Care About Is You,” with its straightforwardly romantic lyrics and classic-pop chord progression, would sound right at home on 69 Love Songs. The rest, delightfully, sounds like nothing else around.