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Future Bible Heroes: I’m Lonely (EP)

A Good Thing

By Fred Choi

One can only imagine what a collaboration of musicians and writers of the past might have produced. What if Puccini and Eugene O’Neill had worked on an opera together? What would a collection of songs by Allen Ginsberg and John Lennon have sounded like? Or a musical by Shirley Jackson and Rodgers and Hammerstein?

The Future Bible Heroes is a group that provides glimpses at the creative possibilities of such blatantly counter-intuitive combinations. FBH is comprised of Chris Ewen, deejay at ManRay and founding member of the 80s band Figures on a Beach (their cover of “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” is still a staple at 80’s dance parties nationwide), who provides the music to the idiosyncratic lyrics of Stephin Merritt, of The Magnetic Fields fame. It is a testament to the creativity of both Ewen, firmly entrenched in a world of glitter and gyrating bodies, and Merritt, just as firmly entrenched in a world of morose indie rock snobs and rebellious coffeehouse workers, that a collaboration like FBH even came about.

I’m Lonely is an instantly likeable disc. Although the disc is an EP, the five songs still manage to cover a wide terrain. There is music for dancing naked around your kitchen while you’re waiting for the microwave to finish warming up your leftover Hsin Hsin, songs to listen to at four in the morning after a bad argument with your boyfriend, as well as a sponge cake recipe for ruining your diet which you actually already cheated on a week ago.

The general map of the EP travels the shape of an inverted parabola in that the songs progress from mostly careless and sunny to the depths of despair and then back up again to end on an angsty but sweet note. The first track, “I’m Lonely (And I Love It)” immediately grabs the listener by the ears with its mouth-watering textures, Merritt’s throaty vocals, and angelic backing vocals. Merritt’s lyrics are about the narrator’s breakup and his sudden delight in realizing the freedom it provides: “I’m ... wearing all the clothes you hate and going back to blond ... It’s time to buy the records you would never let me buy.” The song ends with the humorous conclusion: “If that’s how it feels to get your heart broken / Break my heart again!”

As with the majority of the lyrics contributed by Merritt, the viewpoint is often lighthearted. However, there is also an undercurrent of seriousness which is effective and at times wrenching. Here as in the other tracks, Ewen’s music concentrates on the seeming carelessness of the narrator, contrasting to great effect with the brave self-illusionment the lyrics imply. “Hopeless,” a remix of a track from FBH’s more laid-back but similarly tuneful and thought-provoking debut album, Memories of Love, also demonstrates this contrast. In this song, Ewen sets Merritt’s disillusioned lyric to an upbeat, melodic tune.

The Spanish-flavored “My Blue Hawaii” is the campiest song of the five. Merritt’s languid vocals fit well with the Hawaiian theme and contrasts well with Ewen’s highly danceable beats. “Hawaii,” even though it is mostly frivolous, still has undercurrents of seriousness. The song highlights the narrator’s longing for a paradise, with insistent zooming airplane sounds serving as a brilliant touch to remind the listener of how unreachable and distant that paradise is.

“CafÉ Hong Kong” is a stand-out track in which the winning mixture of pathos and humour of FBH is most apparent. In the first verse the narrator (wonderfully vocalized by the distinctive Claudia Gonson, drummer and keyboard player of The Magnetic Fields) informs her lover via a letter that she “had to use [his] handkerchief as a tourniquet. It’s blood-stained now and torn.” In each of the two succeeding verses the tone grows more serious and more desperate with “A grenade got me so I’m blind,” and finally “Some complications, and I’m dying,” interspersed with pleas and promises to be eternally faithful. The words are accompanied by a delicate, lilting accompaniment and the song as a whole is simply fantastic.

In “Good Thing I Don’t Have Any Feelings” Ewen avoids the surface frivolity of the other songs and instead brings out the pain and cynicism of the lyrics. Although the music is still danceable, it does not detract from poignant lines such as, “You said ‘I hate you, I hate you, I hate you,’” which are jabs to the gut which just work. This and the other tracks exhibit a stronger Erasure influence (in particular of the great I Say I Say I Say era) than FBH’s album, but Ewen tends to produce lighter sounds and denser textures.

Future Bible Heroes is certainly music of the future. It’s music to dance to, but also to think to and, sometimes, to cry to. It will certainly be interesting to see what the future album of the Future Bible Heroes (due in 2001) will hold.

Chris Ewen spins at ManRay in Cambridge four nights a week. Stephin Merritt and The Magnetic Fields will be performing all 69 Love Songs at the Somerville Theater Dec. 7 and Dec. 8. Tickets are $20-$38 and are available through Ticketmaster (617-931-2000).