Review Summary: While this LP has its moments, ultimately it's the least satisfying of Future Bible Heroes' three full-length albums.Eternal Youth
is the second of Future Bible Heroes' three LPs to date, and while it has its moments, it's ultimately the least successful. Nestled five years after the band's exceptional debut Memories of Love
(1997) and nine years before their fine comeback album Partygoing
(2013), Eternal Youth
(2002) suffers from a variety of maladies.
For the unfamiliar, Future Bible Heroes itself is one of a number of side projects of Stephin Merritt, the mastermind behind the band The Magnetic Fields (69 Love Songs
, 50 Song Memoir
, etc.) As such, FBH, along with other projects like The 6ths and The Gothic Archies, has always served as a sort of sorbet to cleanse Merritt's musical palate between Magnetic Fields projects. The band is made up Merritt; his manager/friend/spiritual guide Claudia Gonson (who generally splits the lead vocals with Merritt, but sings all the leads on this album -- more on that in a bit); and keyboard madman Chris Ewen, formerly of Figures on a Beach. As opposed to Merritt's other projects, FBH plays in a style that Wikipedia refers to "electronica-based disco", thanks largely to the strange stylings of Ewen.
Don't get me wrong here, Eternal Youth
isn't really a bad
album. It's just that FBH's other two albums are so brilliant that Eternal Youth seems lackluster in comparison. This is due to a number of reasons.
For one thing, there are probably too many tracks here. The album lists sixteen songs, although in fairness, six of them are really just instrumental bridges, weird little interludes that are each less than a minute long. They don't really add much to the LP, though, and they make it feel
longer than it is. I get it that they're there to break up the monotony, but that leads us to our next issue.
You see, unlike each of the other two FBH LPs, this is the only one where Gonson handles all of the lead vocals. I like her voice myself, but if I'm being honest, I have to admit that it's far from perfect. She's a little nasal, and at times, just slightly off key. FBH works really well when she trades the leads with Merritt's deadpan bass vox. When she's the only vocalist on the album, though, her voice isn't interesting enough to carry it off by herself, even if the songs are separated by little pieces of electronic instrumental whimsy.
And this is the worst sin -- the songwriting here just isn't as consistently strong as it is on the other two Future Bible Heroes LPs. There are three songs that I really like a lot, and find myself going back to all the time, and maybe three or four others that are flawed but worthwhile. But here's where the too-many-tracks thing comes back to bite the band -- three really strong tracks out of ten, or even six or seven really solid ones make you perceive an LP one way; three, or six, or seven out of sixteen
makes you rate it entirely differently.
Let's talk about Eternal Youth
's strong points, though. When this album first came out, "I'm a Vampire" wasn't even my favorite song on it. It's grown on me over the years, however. Now, it might be my favorite FBH song overall. The track features Claudia portraying an immortal bitch goddess, playing with her victim like a cat plays with a mouse and having a wonderful time doing it. Here, she explains exactly who she is: "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/I've survived the inquisition, been a harlot, been a queen/Survived for seven hundred years, and I still look seventeen." Merritt loves writing about monsters, and this one is one of his best.
Another absolute winner is "Doris Daytheearthstoodstill". This imaginative number is sung from the viewpoint of an amiable race of aliens on a planet far away who find themselves unwillingly bombarded by our old television signals. They hate our ads (they have no way to buy this junk, after all), but they love our old movies, especially those featuring Doris Day, whom they perceive to be the "hippest chick on Thurth". We're accidentally causing them to grow new antennae, and they're considering sending a gas droid after us for disturbing their peace.
A simpler, but equally amusing track is "Kiss Me Only With Your Eyes". This one follows the life of the prim and proper Mary Daly, who upbraids her fiancé, her priest and the Lord Jesus in turn. Just as each of them is about to kiss her, she warns them to kiss her only with their eyes, as she despises any sort of physical affection. Unsurprisingly, her groom leaves her at the altar.
There are also a couple of songs that work better musically than lyrically. I love the slow moodiness of "A Thousand Lovers in a Day" and the song structure and Gonson's smooth vocals on "No River", but the lyrical narratives of both are kind of silly. As for most of the other songs, they're just OK.
Future Bible Heroes is actually my favorite of Stephin Merritt's various musical endeavors. The chemistry between him, Gonson and Ewen really works for me, and they usually manage to take his clever songwriting to another level. On Eternal Youth
, though, the magic works on just a few songs. For FBH and Stephen Merritt completists, this LP is certainly a must-have. If you're just starting out with this band, though, don't start here. You'll be better served by listening to Memories of Love