Bigmouth strikes again: Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart seems to be channeling the exquisite angst of Morrissey on the group’s new CD
Fabulous Muscles * Xiu Xiu * 5 Rue Christine
Anyone with any amount of gay-dar ought to pick up on the way-fey, Morrissey-like, tragic artfag pose–with a plush toy kitten–of openly bisexual singer-songwriter Jamie Stewart on the cover of Fabulous Muscles, the third album from his Seattle-San Francisco Bay area experimental indie pop collective Xiu Xiu (pronounced “shoe shoe”). And really, what straight guy would be caught dead using the word fabulous?
But in case there was any doubt about Stewart’s queerness, the title track paints an explicit, if somewhat masochistic, picture: “Cremate me after you cure on my lips / Honey boy, place my ashes in a vase / Beneath your workout bench.” Sung in an awkwardly melodic, almost falsetto vocal register, with only a sparse acoustic-guitar accompaniment, it’s a heart-wrenching anti-love song of which even legendary saddo Morrissey would be proud.
And the comparisons to Morrissey don’t end there. Lyrics like “My behind is a beehive / There’s a buzz in my back side” (“I Luv the Valley”) and “We’ll catch loan unawares, but / What if he doesn’t wear underwear” (“Crank Heart”) will have Moz fans waxing nostalgic, thanking their lucky stars that there is a new clever-tongued, self-effacing, angst-filled antihero to love.
Musically, however, Fabulous Muscles is far more complex than a Smiths album. Tracks like the mournful, screeching-guitar–filled “I Luv the Valley” find Stewart channeling Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, while others like the blippy “Clowne Towne more closely resemble the melodic synth-pop of Stephin Merritt. Nearly every song features an uneasy yet artful confluence of ’80s-era synth and strings (violins, upright bass, mandolin), while some tunes include percussion, resulting in a dramatic, unconventionally symphonic backdrop for Stewart’s emotionally charged lyrics.
Fabulous Muscles isn’t exactly what you would call easy listening, despite claims that it’s Xiu Xiu’s most pop effort yet. It deals with an intense year of upheaval and crisis in Stewart’s life, from his father’s suicide (“Mike”) to the war on Iraq (the spoken-word rant “Support Our Troops OH!”). But Stewart’s artsy, electro-acoustic compositions exquisitely reflect his inner turmoil, making for a passionately beautiful, if not always comfortable, experience.
Coble is a freelance writer who pens the self-syndicated music column Stereo Homo.
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