Eban and Charley orig. sndtrk
Date someone long enough and you”ll notice that you can complete the cycle of happy-to-bored-to-sad-to-frustrated and back again multiple times in any given week. Get really good and you”ll wind up doing it a few times a day. Develop a relationship with Stephin Merritt”s soundtrack to the film “Eban and Charley” and you”ll run through the circuit six times in just over half an hour.
The film depicts, apparently, the troubled and socially “inappropriate” homosexual relationship between a 29 year-old ex-soccer coach and a 15 year-old boy. Its soundtrack reveals the tension between experimentally influenced background music and melodic kitsch pop. The results are something akin to aural manic depression.
This album represents Merritt”s first release under his own name. But not surprisingly, the best songs on this album resemble Merritt”s work under his Magnetic Fields project. They are the pop songs with melody and wit, delivered by Merritt”s foghorn voice and backed with quirky instrumentation. “I wish I had an orchestra behind me. / an orchestra can tell you pretty stories but this little ukulele tells the truth,” sings Merritt over a jaunty uke strum. It”s clever and simple, but not easily discardable. Merritt”s voice projects earnestness and a pathetic, yet heartening, dignity even when singing silly lyrics over toy pianos, such as he does on “Tiny Flying Player Pianos.” Though the majority of the lyrics are an intentionally inflated discourse about baby grands going to sleep, when Merritt moans the ending refrain, “Oh, if only I could sleep,” you feel for him despite yourself.
However, this is not always the case. “Poppyland” and “Water Torture” are disposable pop songs with higher aspirations. “Poppyland” gets weighed down in reverb and deliberately sloppy vocal double-tracks that do nothing but distract from an otherwise passable Magnetic Fields song. The obvious nonchalance of “Water Torture” comes through in its endlessly rhyming and fatuous lyrics, making it the more attractive of the pair.
Just to give the album some claim to gravitas, and further fool with listener emotions, two sad songs crop up. “Some Summer Day,” with its Western tinge and morose melody, and “Maria Maria Maria,” mixing melancholy and longing, complete the showcase of Merritt”s diverse compositional abilities.
Unfortunate are the tracks of abstract incidental music, which fulfill a purpose in the movie but stand to only disrupt and divert the soundtrack album. These conceptual compositions consist of odd instrumentation laid over boringly repetitive structures. On a whole, they come off as pitiful attempts at Mark Motherbaugh”s creations for the Rushmore soundtrack. Merritt”s most grievous offense in this genre is “Stage Rain,” whose “music” turns out to be even less exciting than its title. The track is literally almost seven minutes of ambient rain shower noise. Though destined to be the talk of certain New York circles, this song tenders nothing innovative and could fit on any of the “natural sounds” tapes long-proffered at yuppie day spas.
Pretentious indiscretions aside, Merritt”s album should hopefully place his name on the list Hollywood looks to for musical assistance. However, given what it implies about his emotional stability, it will not help him in the personal ads.