The 6ths

Wasps' Nest (London/Pgd '95) Rating: B+
One of several side projects from main Magnetic Fields man Stephen Merritt (the others being the Future Bible Heroes and Gothic Archies), the 6ths is a particularly unique outlet for Merritt’s songwriting talents. Basically, the album contains 15 brand new Merritt compositions, but 14 of them are sung by other handpicked voices (he himself sings “Aging Spinsters”). Musically, most of the songs are rhythm based (synthetically so), with acoustic or jangly guitars and thrift shop keyboards adding coloring to a low-key (and lo-fi) batch of generally charming songs. Most of the female vocalists are very feminine, including Barbara Manning, Mary Timony, Ayako Akashiba, Georgia Hubley, Amelia Fletcher, and Ann Domino, while most of the men (Dean Wareham, Mitch Easter, Mac McCaughan, Lou Barlow, Robert Scott, Mark Robinson, Jeffrey Underhill, Chris Knox) aren’t especially masculine, either, most sort of talk-singing but (aside from an ill-fitting Knox) in a way that's suitable for the material. Highlights include the dreamy little girl pop of “San Diego Zoo” and image-rich numbers like “All Dressed Up In Dreams” and “Movies In My Head” (generally I prefer the girl-sung numbers), as well as the laconic “Falling Out Of Love (With You),” ABBA-eque “Here In My Heart,” and “Puerto Rico Way,” which has a catchy keyboard riff you won’t soon forget. The problem with this album, and this may seem like nitpicking, is that its sweetly singable if somewhat slight songs are so consistent that it starts to sound like formula after a while, and though I can appreciate Merritt’s clever lyrics (song title: “You Can’t Break A Broken Heart”), my love for cute 'n' cheeky wimp pop has its limits. As such, I find this to be an enjoyable once in a while sort of album, but you can amend the above rating up or down depending on where your taste lies.

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