69 Love Songs (Volume 2)
By: Eric Greenwood
69 Love Songs is a literal title with blatant innuendo, but amidst Merritt’s masterwork are a few songs that seem forced and self-indulgent, which is easily overlooked when you compare the hits versus the misses ratio on an effort this colossal. It’s almost like he only had 63 songs and threw in some fluff to reach the magic number. The first two tracks of Volume 2 certainly lend validity to this train of thought. “Roses” is only a handful of seconds long, but it’s a capella and its sung by one of the “other” singers (i.e. not Merritt) with a silly, sentimental message. “Love Is Like Jazz” is one of those songs that is funny to talk about but no fun to listen to. Merritt and his band’s improvisational approach to this one is a double edged sword; it throws a jab at jazz as a genre through mock imitation (“it’s almost entirely window dressing”) while showing how it’s parallel to being in love. Clever. But that’s a hard lesson to have sit through. Now on to the good stuff.
“When My Boy Walks Down The Street” is pure genius pop. Fuzzy guitars, simple refrain, hyperbolic yet effective lyrics (“Grand Pianos crash together when my boy walks down the street”) all fall in place under a rare, booming bass riff. From here on out Volume 2 hardly strays from ace material. “Time Enough For Rocking When We’re Old” features Merritt cashing in on his ridiculously deep baritone for a rhyming tale of homespun over-romanticizing. “Very Funny” is a short, melodramatic ballad sung not by Merritt but it still manages to pull off the self-deprecating tone of the lyrics. It’s truly one instant classic after another. I can’t think of another band that has tackled anything like this. Merritt’s songs have always been about love of one form or another, so this collection is only a natural progression.
“Washington D.C.” is an indie rock gem featuring Claudia Gonson’s happy chirping, complete with cheerleader intro. “Long-Forgotten Fairytale” is probably the most exciting song on Volume 2. It’s the secret weapon. Merritt’s electronic genius shines here with the eighties synth-cheese turned up to ten. “Kiss Me Like You Mean It” is a slight misstep in an otherwise flawless string of hits with its hokey, new-age folksy leanings- something you’d expect to hear at the Lilith Fair not on a Magnetic Fields record. “Papa Was A Rodeo” is gay country at its finest. Ha. Merritt’s bag of tricks knows no bounds. “Epitaph For My Heart” has one of those down beat melodies that hits you hard and you never want it to end. The sheer diversity of this music is staggering, especially when you consider how past Magnetic Fields records have been so claustrophobic on every level from production to performance. 69 Love Songs is Merritt’s tour de force. How will he top this?