Stephin Merritt is an undoubted musical genius, but, as seems to be so often the case, appears unwilling to commit himself to one pure, identifiable style. Hyacinths And Thistles is an electro-inspired collection of beautifully understated digital pieces, each featuring a different guest vocalist. It's quite different from some of the music that Merritt has produced under his other aliases, but is equally valid. You know those albums that come along every so often, the ones that just sit in your CD player for months, set to permanent loop? The ones that are so rarely replaced in their jewel cases that you have no idea what the CD artwork looks like? The albums that are always played from start to finish without a break so that you begin to conceive of them as one big forty-five minute piece? This is one of those. It really is. I'm loath to write a review that consists of nothing more than the usual groupies' summary of "This is the best album ever, buy it now", but I'm finding it very hard to think of any major negative points about Hyacinths And Thistles. My biggest objection is the fact that I can't pronounce it. There are moments when the album seems to deliberately loose momentum, almost as if Merritt is ashamed to exploit the music in such an unabashedly beautiful way. This is at first annoying, but soon becomes incidental. It is the lyrical content that makes this album stand out, being as it is a combination of astonishingly clever word-play and unbelievably corny love poetry. If the album has a weak point, it is the tenth track, "Volcana" (with Marc Almond, believe it or not), which never really seems to achieve anything. Having said that, I'll probably love it by the end of next week. Other albums that I would put on the same level as Hyacinths And Thistles are "69 Love Songs" by The Magnetic Fields and "A Short Album About Love" by The Divine Comedy (and yes, Neil Hannon is one of the guest artists on the album). There are three flagship songs on this album. The first is "Give Me Back My Dreams" (with Silly Timms), which is the most lyrically accomplished song on the album. If this doesn't make you squeeze back a tear or two, not much will. The second is "Just Like A Movie Star" (with Dominique A), a perfect song that builds rapidly to a triumphant anthem. The album closes with "Oahu" (with Lily Banquette), a song about that holiday romance that you never really had. The riff from this song continues for a good twenty minutes after the close of the song proper. It is an indication of the power of this album that this isn't in the least bit annoying.
The prolific, fecund of talent within Magnetic Fiels/6ths makes being a fan an expensive business. This is as good as '69 Love Songs' with (dare i say it) better vocals: some songs seem to suit Meritts vocal style, but Neil Hannon and (most surprisingly) Bob Mould provide a welcome distraction on the albums high points.
As a virtual newcomer to Stephen Merritt, I was suprised that something I heard on a commercial radio station with links to an online music sales site would actually throw up something this great, but I now own all of his and The 6ths' backlist. It's pop genius, flaws and all.
Hyacinths and Thistles, on it's own, is tinkly pop magic. The stand-out track is You You You You You with Katherine Whalen. It haunts my dreams! Neil Hanlon's contribution is superb, grim but uplifting, and Oahu with Miss Lily Banquette, whilst long towards the end, is another worm-like melody. However, it is NOT as great as Wasps Nests. And in the absence of that to review, I thought I'd tag a bit of that on here.
Aging Spinster is the most insidious song on the album. It's like a lamprey with it's hook and arrogant swagger. In the City In The Rain likewise, with the vocals just tickling the ear, and Falling Out of Love is my favourite with it's morbid excellence.
Two thumbs up people. Should appeal to fans of Balck Box Recorder and The Postal Service.
An amazing collection of songs. First listen was so so, second listen I decided there were two perhaps three outstanding tracks, third listen I was captivated. It now ranks as an album I do not want to play too much so as to not get sick of it if that makes sense.