69 LOVE SONGS
Welp. Turns out Stephin Merritt’s kind of a god and I shouldn’t say anything bad about him ever. See, he’s the main guy in this band, The Magnetic Fields, and they just put it the fuck together.
In the world of sport, of which I am a fan (of watching), TMFs are a guy with all the natural talent in the world but rarely puts it together. A prized prospect who frustrates the scouts and gets his hitting coaches fired. This album is that guy breaking out, and sustaining it. I’m not sure I needed that analogy, but holy Smoak is this album amazing.
69 love songs! Love songs, all sizes! The amazing thing here isn’t just the volume, but the variety. Ulysses-like, Merritt shows knowledge of a variety of genres, mostly to laugh at them and show that he could do a whole album in that style if he so chose, then inverts them and makes everything a simple love song. Here’s a jazz song! Here’s some spoken word! Here’s a song that sounds like Depeche Mode! Here’s a call-and-response song! Here’s a show tune!
Then there’s the pop songs. Reams of them, most of them show a ridiculous ability to make new songs with two or three basic chords. Songs like “When My Boy Walks Down The Street” and “I Don’t Wanna Get Over You” are just C-G things (the latter anyway) or other very simple progressions. But damned if they aren’t excellent.
Enough of all that, let’s talk about words. I don’t think I know a single other album that demonstrates such a mastery of lyric-writing. The love song is taken at every direction and fucked up and down. A half dozen cities serve as backdrops, he makes you amused, he makes you sad, he writes songs that, finally, can serve as insight into your own life. Mine, anyway. Let’s have some lyrics:
“I could make a career of being blue / I could dress in black and read Camus / Smoke clove cigarettes and drink Vermouth / Like I was seventeen / That would a scream / But I don’t wanna get over you”
“A pretty girl is like a violent crime / If you do it wrong you could do time”
“Love is like a bottle of gin / But a bottle of gin is not like love”
“Washington D.C. / It’s the greatest place to be / It’s not because it is the grand old seat of precious freedom and democracy / …It’s just that’s where my baby waits for me”
“One kiss from me / And you’ll be spinning like a gyroscope / One tryst with me / And you’ll be pope!”
“Come back from San Francisco / And kiss me I’ve quite smoking”
“You need me like the wind / Needs trees to blow in / Like the moon needs poetry you need me”
I mean, it just goes on and on and on. No, Stephin Merritt is still not a go-to for an artist bleeding his own thoughts, but when it comes to faking it he’s really really really good here. And sure there’s like 30 missteps, but fuck, there’s like 40 great songs here! What the fuck album has FORTY great songs on it? This one, and pretty much this one only. I know love songs are wimpy, but this is an absolute monolith. By the time it’s done I always think that the love song qua love song is pretty much done, and it takes days to recover.
10 / 10