69 Love Songs (Volume One)
By: Eric Greenwood
The big one. The leviathan. Finally, it’s here: 69 Love Songs. The Magnetic Fields’ follow up to Get Lost is an ambitious undertaking to say the least. It’s been four years since we’ve had a full album of Stephin Merritt’s lovelorn and twisted odes to despair, and this ought to keep us quiet for a long time to come. If Volume One is any indication, this three-disc set is going to stand as the most diverse and collaborative effort yet from Merritt and co. The band explores a gambit of moods and styles musically, but lyrically it revolves solely around love, in keeping with Merritt’s obsessive nature and tendancy to explore themes.
Merritt is as clever a wordsmith as you’ll find these days, and his melodies never grow tiresome. He passes the mic a tad too frequently often resulting in the loss of irony in his words because those other voices just don’t have that duplicitous intonation, but we get plenty of his blase baritone and gloomy demeanor to pacify our craving for self-deprecating hopelessness. Each song sounds like a different band from the neo-folksiness of “All My Little Words” to the country-tinged “A Chicken With Its Head Cut Off” and even on to the OMD-esque “Let’s Pretend We’re Bunny Rabbits.” Never before has The Magnetic Fields done so much genre hopping on one record, and it’s a brilliant move.
The most amazing thing about Volume One is that there is very little filler. Perhaps, we could do without silly throwaways like “Punk Love”, but in context it actually works. The bottom line here is that Merritt can write a damn fine tune. “I Don’t Believe In The Sun” is an instant classic, hitting just the write notes to make you feel like Merritt does: lonely and resigned. “Reno Dakota” is sung by Merritt’s right arm, Claudia Gonson, and it fits her amateurish and slightly nasal delivery perfectly with its singsong rhymes and clever lyrics bathed in black humor: “Reno Dakota I’m reaching my quota of tears for the year/alas and alack you just don’t call me back you have just disappeared/it makes me drink beer.”
Merritt’s charm has always been his ability to churn out electronic pop songs that seem simple upon first listen but later reveal complex layers of sound manipulation. Volume One of 69 Love Songs shakes up the formula a bit. The production is not nearly as insular as it was on Holiday or even Charm Of The Highway Strip, and the music is much more organic. Merritt’s vocals have never been so prominently featured either. He usually drowns them in effects, but the songs here capture an exposed feel. Fear not, there are plenty of the ‘classic’ sounding Magnetic Fields songs complete with busy, electronic melodies like “Fido, Your Leash Is Too long” and, perhaps, the finest song on Volume One, “The Things We Did And Didn’t Do.” Volumes Two and Three have a lot to live up to.