I first listened to Future Bible Heroes’ new record Partygoing on the tube from Heathrow Airport into central London after an overnight flight from New York. It was overcast and the album is mostly about drinking. The setting, says the press release, is Los Angeles, but London works just as well. Better, maybe. Lonesomeness is a big topic of this album, which maybe accounts for how well it suited that 8:00 AM post-airport commute on a grey day, despite its ’80s-inspired synthy beats connoting dancing and various late-night activities.
Future Bible Heroes is a side project of Magnetic Fields frontman Stephin Merritt, along with Christopher Ewen and Magnetic Fields’ Claudia Gonson. This is their third record, and their first since 2002. The quick 13 tracks were written over the entire decade-plus interim since their last album. They do form a certain narrative arc, albeit a pretty bleak one; the topics range from drinking and being out late doing whatever else, to ideas like death, overprotective parenting and the unavoidable futility of love. It’s a coming of age story, maybe?
The album kicks off with a cute-ish glockenspiel peal and “A Drink Is Just the Thing,” a quick homage to budding alcoholism — “I often find/when I’m feeling low/a drink is just the thing… It’s also so/when I’m feeling fine/a drink is just the thing” — that basically sets the tone for the record. There’s “Let’s Go to Sleep (And Never Come Back),” an infectious, dancey track about a couple ODing on heroin to avoid financial woes. (“Some people just make oodles of income/We never had the knack/Let’s go to sleep — and never come back.”) There’s “Keep Your Children in a Coma,” another body-moving, ’80s-y track about medicating one’s children (“If you keep them dosed on Soma you can spare them all their pain/Keep your children in a coma and stay sane”) and more than one song about obsessive, unrequited affection. Fans of Magnetic Fields will recognize the tone, but Chris Ewen’s electronic-textured, dance-ish textures lend the record a pretty exuberant baseline.
More than anything else, this record is fun. I could say a lot of things about the various layers of subtext, of sarcasm and authenticity, and how this band always sounds a bit like an eye-roll, and it’s definitely possible, maybe even recommended, to read this record as a sort of cautionary tale about excess. But one can just as easily take away from it something else entirely: “Drink Nothing But Champagne,” as one song puts it, and have a nice, next-morning-demolishing evening anyway. Basically, this record is your lovable mess of a party-instigating friend. This is the friend who never fails to lap you at the bar, the one who always inspires festivity but keeps your whispers about substance abuse, drinking problems, or chronic depression comfortably away from yourself.
The evening of drinking that I, bleary-eyed and jet-lagged, embarked upon after listening to Partygoing on repeat on the Piccadilly line began early, peaked at 4:00 AM when we started pouring Campari into everything and ended with me and a colleague missing an 8:00 AM train to Brussels. Make of that whatever you want. But we eventually got to Brussels.