The House Of Tomorrow Ep (reissue), Holiday (reissue)
By: Eric G.
In 1993 Stephin Merritt, thankfully, decided to stop using Susan Anway as a mouthpiece for his Casio-driven, lovelorn ditties as he had on two previous albums, Distant Plastic Trees and The Wayward Bus. Merritt’s Frank Sinatra-meets-Ian Curtis baritone croon presents his sentiments in a much more effective manner. The four songs on The House Of Tomorrow EP display Merritt’s seemingly effortless ability to conjure up deeply haunting yet irresistible synthetic pop songs. His panache is undeniable. How many writers could pull off lines like these from “Technical (You’re So)”: “You’re a Libertarian/the death of the left was you/you look like Herbert Von Karajan/you live underneath the zoo?”
The following summer Merritt released two more full-length albums as The Magnetic Fields, Holiday and The Charm Of The Highway Strip. The former being the stronger release as the latter was more of a one-off experiment in fusing country and synthetics. Holiday is the first time the potential of The Magnetic Fields is fully realized. Buzzing guitars, tubas, cellos, and monotonous beats swirl in a magical air as Merritt coos depressingly on top of it all. The melodies are so immediate and familiar you want to kick yourself for not having thought of them yourself. Merritt’s songs reveal strains of influences as disparate as The Beach Boys and Abba.
Merritt lays all of his insecurities on the line. His lyrics hold nothing back. His tongue is at once vicious and sentimental. The poignancy of lines like these from “Deep Sea Diving Suit”: “I’m sorry but how can I get to you/stuck in my fifty-pound lead boots, stuck in my deep sea diving suit?” make it easy to sympathize with all of Merritt’s regrets and losses. And it doesn’t hurt that the songs are simply brilliant. From the overtly sexual and blasé attitude of “Desert Island” to the retro-tinged beauty of “Sad Little Moon” Merritt explores all of his eccentricities. The album climaxes with the final song, “Take Ecstasy With Me”- a nostalgic, bittersweet ode to gay love that is, musically, the album’s purest moment.