69 Love Songs (Volume 3)
By: Eric Greenwood
Stephin Merritt has pulled it off- the most ambitious pop concept album of the decade. Saving the best for last, Volume 3 of 69 Love Songs is far and away the finest batch of tunes in the collection. Following the cheesed-up dub-reggae of “It’s A Crime” comes the collection’s most beautiful and poignant song, “Busby Berkeley Dreams”: “I haven’t seen you in ages/but it’s not as bleak as it seems/we still dance on whirling stages/in my Busby Berkeley dreams.” The melody follows a simple piano line while Merritt strains slightly outside of his usual pitch. The effect is stark and timeless. Merritt surely writes with a gold-tipped pen.
Just when you thought you couldn’t hear a more perfect pop song comes “The Death Of Ferdinand de Saussaure.” It breezes by with an acoustic guitar and a tight, flowing bass line as Merritt coos lightly: “We don’t know anything/you don’t know anything/I don’t know anything about love.” It even has handclaps and the eighties inspired ‘woa-oh-woa-oh’s’ a la “Kids In America” by Kim Wilde. This volume truly takes you through a gambit of diverging musical styles as evidenced by the juxtaposition of the dark and slightly ambient “Love In The Shadows” (“Don’t laugh/I think you’re beautifulï¿½”) with the heart on your sleeve melodrama of “Bitter Tears” (I cry because it looks so good/I cry, why not, it’s freeï¿½”), which was recorded in mono. Merritt’s ear for detail is unrivaled. Each song shows such a passion for songcraft as well as engineering.
69 Love Songs will surely elevate Merritt’s name amongst today’s sharpest pop composers and, perhaps, cast a wider net for his already rabid following. A friend of mine recently pointed out: “If an artist had culled from his entire career this many good songs and released it as a retrospective box[ed] set or some such shit, he would no doubt be considered a prolific legend. Merritt releases it as all new songs, all at once, and all love songs. Un-fucking-real.” So true.