He�s the Magnetic Fields (which began as him writing songs for a female singer, then transmuted into several versions of just him, and is now a four -piece band with three extra singers and the best-selling accordion player in the world). He�s the Gothic Archies, the funniest, gently-darkest one-person band there is. He�s the visionary behind the Sixths, writing songs for famous people to sing, who aren�t him.
And he used to be half, and is now, suddenly and surprisingly, a third, of the Future Bible Heroes, his ongoing and occasional collaboration with Boston DJ and composer Chris Ewen. They�ve made one full-length CD and one EP in the past, and if I was to describe the stuff they�ve already done as high-energy dance music with morbid and ironic lyrics I�d be off the mark, but not by too much.
Now, however, through the process of reinvention that exemplifies everything that Stephin gets involved in, the Future Bible Heroes are back. The same, only completely different.
As before, the process began with Chris Ewen, spinning aural webs that run the whole gamut from full-blown dance-floor pulses to haunting fragments of the kind of music that might be played in a haunted doll�s house. He then handed what he�d made to Stephin, who teased melodies out of the soundscapes, or imposed them, and then wrote a sequence of songs which might have escaped from some Twilight Zone, or from a 24 hour marathon of fifties SF, horror, fantasy and historical movies. He writes lyrics that would be astonishing from anyone else, but are more or less expected from Stephin:
So far, sort of usual.
Then he gave the songs to Claudia Gonson to sing. Claudia used to play percussion for the Magnetic Fields, then became their keyboard player. She was one of the two female singers on 69 Love Songs � her voice is clear, pure, plangent and precise. (She sang �I want a Zebra�. She sang �Acoustic Guitar�.) She makes singing sound simple. (I like Claudia�s voice. You can tell.) It�s the first time one woman has been the exclusive voice of a CD of Stephin�s songs since the first two Magnetic Fields albums, and this is, of course, completely different from that. The result is a very different Future Bible Heroes.
The cover photographs for Eternal Youth show images that ought to be kitsch, or camp, but aren�t. They�re art. The CD manages the same trick, if trick it is, with songs that range from"Vampire" to "The World Is A Disco Ball". Imagine Claudia alternately singing and rapping like Debbie Harry used to, about the joys of vampirism: �I never age and I'll never die/Unlike all the stars in the sky/I'll be young forever and why?/'Cause I'm a vampire,� she explains, cheerfully. She will drink your blood like beer. In 1977 �Vampire� would have been an international hit, and people would have bitten each other�s necks under the glitter-ball lights. Hell, it may happen yet.
�Kiss Me Only With Your Eyes�, is similarly a song out of time. This story of unfrustrated eternal virginity and romance would have been the international smash hit in 1874. It�s still funny and sad today.
�Doris Daytheearthstoodstill� is a straightforward song about loving the alien, an artefact from a retro 50s future, while �From Some Dying Star� might be a song about a visitor from another world, or it may be that it�s just about lusting after what you can�t have or won�t get.
And I haven�t even mentioned �Losing My Affection�, which is the funny one that kicks off the CD with lyrics that will be quoted in all the reviews, or �Viennese Lift� which is my favourite of all the Chris Ewen fragment -- it�s like LOW period Bowie and Eno writing music for Wednesday Addams� musical box.
It�ll be out within the next few months. The band gave me an advanced copy, and told me they didn�t mind me writing something about it here. Which is good, as I just have. 16 cool as polar bear tracks, 7 of which are Chris Ewen instrumentals.)
Am currently, when I get a second to read, reading Pattern Recognition, the upcoming William Gibson novel. It's astonishingly good -- he's turned all his ability to extrapolate to the present, and creates a textured world which is completely imaginary while it's also perfectly true and exactly now. It's filled with moments of puzzled recognition, like browsing the E-bay of dreams. A pleasure to read, and if there's any justice in the world it'll take home its share of literary awards next year, and gain (and regain) Bill an awful lot of happy readers.