Sunday, October 9, 2016

Review of Future Bible Heroes' "Memories of Love"

This was posted on the Sputnik Music website on October 5:

Memories of Love is an album I've recommended to many friends who are lovers of '80s new wave music, and every one of them has come to back to me and thanked me for it. As for myself, it's my favorite album of the 1990s, even though most people have never heard of it. 

Future Bible Heroes is one of the several musical projects of Stephin Merritt, best known as the main creative force behind the band The Magnetic Fields. The rest of FBH consists of Chris Ewen of the band Figures on a Beach on keyboards and strange electronic loops, and Merritt's lifelong friend/manager/social director Claudia Gonson on electronic drums and vocals.

It's hard to describe the sound of the album. I've recommended the requisite four "similar albums" requested with a Sputnik review, but while each shares something in common with Memories of Love, sometimes that commonality is more spiritual than sonic, with the exception of Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs, which I find to be more sparse soundwise. I think the difference between those two bands' sound has to do largely with Ewen's synthesizers and the little electronic bits of weirdness he inserts to fill in the aural gaps. The Future Bible Heroes sound has been described variously as indiepop, synthpop and possibly most accurately by Wikipedia as "electronica-based disco." There are things in their sound that remind me of such '80s bands as Thompson Twins and The Human League, but those bands' synths flow a little more smoothly, while Ewen's and Gonson's electronic sounds tend to pulse.

As opposed to later FBH albums, where Gonson performs most of the vocals, here the leads are evenly split between her and Merritt, which keeps the sound constantly fresh. There's something a little nasal about Gonson's voice, but in spite of that, I find it kind of beautiful. Merritt has one of those really low voices in the range of Tom Smith of Editors or Matt Berninger of The National. It's probably an acquired taste for some, but I think it works well with his own material.

As for the songwriting, Merritt's lyrics are clever and funny at the same time they're often hopeless and despairing. He's more in the tradition of Morrissey or Boy George than of most happy new wave music, but with a real strain of some of the old moon/June-style songwriters of the '30s-'50s such as Sammy Cahn and Julie Styne (e.g., "You know why the lemmings fly from high terrain/You know why most flowers don't bloom/You know why sad children stay out in the rain/Sitting in your lonely room," from "And You're So Beautiful").

There are 11 songs on the album, and they range from stories in the tradition of '50s-style beach party sci-fi films ("She-Devils of the Deep") to humorous songs about lust and despair in a trailer park ("Hopeless"). 

This is the only album of the 1990s I've given a 5 rating too. If you're an admirer of '80s new wave, chances are you'll enjoy Memories of Love.

Rating: 5/5 stars