Stephin Merritt – Obscurities

Credited to Stephin Merritt, though anyone who says they know him as anything other than the Magnetic Fields guy are probably lying, this is a compilation of B-sides and outtakes and early versions, the kind that everyone has to put out at least once per career to prove that they aren’t great judges of song quality.
Did you know: being in requited love is far preferable to being in unrequited love? If you do, then you get the point of nearly every Magnetic Fields song. No matter how creative Stephin is at telling that story – and he is very creative and clever – it gets a bit tiresome. Everything on here, like much of the rest of the catalogue, is allergic to openly talking about expression, or world events, or opinions other than love = good. Horse apples!
This being an oddity collection helps this album by not having a conceit, like most Magnetic Fields albums, so that you can hear an acoustic nicety next to an early cheap synth number. Combined with a few early versions of album highlights and it sounds like an album recorded by a normal witty, eclectic, morose baritone guy.
The songs done with occasional band The 6ths and the cheesy soundtrack work are boring, but the rest of the MF songs are pretty golden. “I Don’t Believe You” is better as a faster-paced pop song (and I love the first second where Merritt is slightly too slow to join his backing vocalists), and “Take Ecstacy WIth Me” is even more touching slash fun with a warm keyboard line and female vocalist. There’s two early B-sides that would’ve improved their albums (including a hilariously dystopian-sounding “fun at the beach” thing), and if the cleverness is toned down a bit, it’s a B-sides collection! Plus, it’s the Magnetic Fields, and it therefore beats the new Regina Spektor album. Merritt’s bathos beats most other peoples’ pathos.

7 / 10

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Stephin Merritt – Pieces Of April

Today I replace my iTouch. It’s been a good four years and eleven months. I’ll always remember how it came for free with my laptop (which is also near to death). I’ll also remember the dozen or so times I thought it was dead for sure but it brightened my life by somehow soldiering on. These include the time I cracked its screen three years ago by dropping it in a Walmart parking lot the day I bought my air conditioner, the two times I managed to completely immerse it in water, the two times it started turning off every five minutes for over a day each time, and the time I desperately tried to get it to start again by jabbing a Q-Tip in the headphone jack (which worked). But now the battery life has dwindled to less than an hour and it’s time to say goodbye. The Wi-Fi never worked, but the volume always went louder than the volume on my phone. If old devices had feelings I’d wish for a pleasant trip down my building’s garbage chute. Because, as my father used to say, “if I can’t take it to the gym, what’s the good of it?” Okay, my father didn’t really say that.

This album is as long as the list of people I hate: about twenty-seven minutes. Just seven new songs, since three are nicked from 69 Love Songs (including the fantastically great “I Think I Need A New Heart” and the overrated fart-buzz of “The Luckiest Guy On The Lower East Side). This is the soundtrack to a movie I would never have heard of it didn’t have Katie Holmes in it, who was pretty goddamned hot when I was a teenager. I didn’t see it, though.

But I do “see” that this is an obvious stopgap from a man coming off a run of amazing output, and the new songs here sound like outtakes from 69 Love Songs, meaning they’re pretty really good. Nothing special lyrically (just the usual cleverness and bad puns), just another bunch of love songs with solid melodies and the voice of a taciturn, superbass gay guy (not that his gayness is relevant) crooning all over it. It works, but materially this is shorter than many EPs, and Katie Holmes doesn’t look as good with red hair.

7 / 10