Technically this marks the major-label debut of Stephin Merritt, a doleful yet prolific singer-songwriter who, as the man behind the band Magnetic Fields, last year released not one but two terrific records. One, Holiday, was a collection of oblique, sometimes sarcastic songs carried along, like an invalid in the arms of a nurse, by strong, cheerful melodies and a flawless, if idiosyncratic, synth-pop production. The other, The Charm of the Highway Strip, was—what? Perhaps it could be described as a country album with a Muzak sensibility.
Now we have the 6ths, which is not really a band at all but 14 other performers—including Georgia Hubley of Yo La Tengo, Dean Wareham of Luna and Lou Barlow of Sebadoh—recruited to take turns singing Merritt's smart, sad, wistful songs about love and, sometimes, illusions that have been not so much shattered as smothered. Producer Merritt handles one vocal himself ("Aging Spinsters") and sounds like wind moaning through a small, relatively leafless tree. The effect is not terribly hopeful yet strangely sweet. This is bubblegum music for passive-aggressive people. (London)