The vocals on nearly half of 69 Love Songs were delivered by others, and on his latest project, Hyacinths and Thistles, released as the 6ths, Merritt leaves all the singing to others. Sally Timms, Bob Mould, Melanie (yes, old-school hippie Melanie), Sarah Cracknell, Odetta, Katherine Whalen, and new wavers Clare Grogan (Altered Images), Marc Almond (Soft Cell), and Gary Numan, among others, all pitch in. Yet Hyacinths and Thistles isn't nearly as dynamic as 69 Love Songs, nor is it quite as good as the first 6ths album, Wasps' Nests. It is, however, another achievement for Merritt. "As You Turn to Go," with Scottish eccentric Momus, is one of Merritt's most moving love songs: a tender, irony-free caress. And the atmospheric "Oahu" wraps its spare melody in a package of primitive synth beeps (which repeat the same tranquil loop for the album's concluding 25 minutes). Hyacinths and Thistles falls between Merritt's two musical passions: old-style songwriting and '80s new wave. But the abundant and diverse choice of vocalists puts the accent on the songs rather than the singer. Take this as Merritt the songwriter's demo tape -- an indication of what he is capable of. Which, it's obvious at this point, is almost anything.
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