The guitar solo (this was back when those still existed) is beautiful, as Slocum's work on the Fender 12-string almost always is. In interviews during this period, he'd mention the Smashing Pumpkins as an influence, and although I don't hear any James Iha in this (or the other songs on tracks 1-4, which seem to be generally considered the best on the record - I'd agree), I certainly hear the thickness and depth the Pumpkins acheived on Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie (and which they completely lost by the end of their career and their "reunion"). The Pumpkins knew how to wring emotional depth out of the guitar tropes of grunge, and Sixpence manages to do it, too (especially on "Bleeding," but more on that later), though with considerably less distortion.
Love is explicitly mentioned in the lyrics (which awkwardly ask "come and save my soul / before it's not too late" - what is the not doing there?), salvation indirectly, and the fear of death not at all, yet all three together articulate a certain "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" restlessness (a divine discontent?): acknowledging the first two does not diminish the third.
The really remarkable thing is that Sixpence takes one of the New Testament's most often repeated passages, Paul's description of love in the first book of Corinthians, and puts a negative spin on it -- so often these words are recited at weddings to remind us what love should be, that we are nothing without love, and so it makes us feel better that we have found it, or are working toward it. "Love, Salvation, the Fear of Death" starts with lack of love as a given. The resulting lyrics carry the if...then of the passage to their natural conclusion: I don't have love. Therefore I have nothing. The final line of the chorus, "I'm not afraid to admit / how much I hate myself" is simply brutal. Thank God the music is bouyant enough not to make this song suicidal; like the rest of This Beautiful Mess, it drives, pushes forward, looks for answers -- which are lacking, the final track being "I Can't Explain" -- but it is in the looking, in the forward motion, that something begins to happen.
Pictured: the Fender Electric XII, presumably the guitar heard here.
Download: Dale Baker offers an mp3 of this song performed live at Flevo Fest in 1996. The quality isn't great, but this is the only live version with the Plasencio bassline I know of.
Postscript: An inexplicable "dance mix" of this song is featured on Tickets for a Prayer Wheel. The first thirty seconds of it are cool and creepy and sound like David Bowie during his industrial period. The rest is simply bizarre. Can you imagine dancing to this song?