Monday, February 14, 2011

The Magnetic Fields-69 Love Songs

Originally Written and Posted at on 2/14/06.

Whether in being in side projects like the Gothic Archies, the 6ths, and the Future Bible Heroes, Stephin Merritt truly has an uncanny knack for pop music with his unique ability to write catchy pop songs in a variety of styles. While he often does various other projects including doing a bit of solo work, his main work is in the four-piece band the Magnetic Fields. Featuring vocalist/percussionist/pianist Claudia Gonson, guitarist/banjo player John Woo, and cellist Sam Davol, Merritt leads the group on vocals and on various instruments. Since forming the band with Gonson, who is also manager, in 1990, the Magnetic Fields released five albums and an EP to critical acclaim and underground devotion. By the end of the 1990s, Merritt was clearly becoming an interesting figure in the underground scene, especially in his native New York City as he and Gonson are openly gay. Then in 1999, Merritt and the Magnetic Fields released their most ambitious work to date, a three-CD box set of material devoted to love simply titled 69 Love Songs.

The concept of 69 Love Songs is simple, a collection of songs about love, it's joy and disappointments. Played in a variety of styles led mostly by synth-pop songs plus dabbles of country, rock, R&B, folk, and experimental music, a lot of the work is conceived by the extremely talented Stephin Merritt. Featuring several collaborators including accordion player Daniel Handler and vocalists LD Beghtol, Dudley Klute, and Shirley Simms. 69 Love Songs is an adventurous collection of songs about love in all of its wittiness and complications. While it's a three-disc collection, some songs do stand out on their own in its various formats. That doesn't mean some songs aren't meant to be overlooked. Some cuts do stand out on their own but played as an album or a box set, the album as a whole forgets the sum of its parts. Then there's short cuts that might be described as filler but as part of the album, it provides a sense of relief into the silliness on the subject of love. Particularly since each disc contains 23 tracks.

The first disc is filled with an array of songs ranging from acoustic ballads like All My Little Words, I Don't Believe In The Sun, Boa Constrictor, Nothing Matters When We're Dancing, and the wonderfully descriptive The Book Of Love that is led by Merritt's haunting baritone. The synth-pop suites like The Luckiest Guy On The Lower East Side, My Sentimental Melody, Let's Pretend We’re Bunny Rabbits, and Sweet-Lovin' Man show the full range of synth-pop in its most experimental and melodic. Notably Sweet-Lovin' Man led by the amazing vocals of Claudia Gonson who also shines in the brief, banjo-ditty Reno Dakota that features amazing playing by John Woo. Vocalist LD Beghtol also shines in the eerie My Sentimental Melody and the melancholic All My Little Words. Some songs like Let's Pretend We're Bunny Rabbits and I Don't Want To Get Over You are catchy that they’re filled with wonderful imagery, especially Let's Pretend We're Bunny Rabbits which is inspiring in its lyrics to put on bunny suits.

The second disc is more synth-pop driven with a full suite of catchy synth-pop tunes like If You Don't Cry, You're My Only Home, My Only Friend, Promises of Eternity, and Long-Forgotten Fairytale. If You Don't Cry is a real standout thanks to Gonson's dreamy vocals and Long-Forgotten Fairytale has a catchy melody that is a great track to listen to in a roller rink. There's also more country-inspired tracks from Papa Was A Rodeo and Kiss Me Like You Mean It both featuring vocals from Shirley Simms. The album opens with the atmospheric Roses led by LD Beghtol that segues into the jazz-idiosyncracies of Love Is Like Jazz. Rock is featured more in songs like (Crazy For You But) Not That Crazy, Epitaph For My Heart, Washington D.C., and When My Boy Walks Down The Street in its most conventional terms. Acoustic numbers like Time Enough For Rocking When We're Old, Asleep & Dreaming, Abigail, Belle Of Kilronan are presented in traditional formats while Grand Canyon, No One Will Ever Love You, and The Way You Say Good-Night reveal more styles of music.

The third and final disc is far more diverse than the previous ones with its range from synth-pop, folk, acoustic ballads, accordion-driven tracks, electronic music, country, rock, and most of all, pop. The disc's biggest standout tracks are the Bo Diddley-rhythm, country romp of I'm Sorry I Love You, the acoustic ballad Acoustic Guitar, the electro-reggae of It's A Crime, the dreamy guitar wash pop of Yeah! Oh, Yeah!, the hypnotic theremin-led Blue You, the Badlands-inspired The Night You Can't Remember, and the circus-melodic of Zebra which closes everything. The disc features a lot more ranging from the piano-ballad Busby Berkeley Dream to experimental collages like Experimental Love Music and Underwear along with psychedelic textures in The Death Of Ferdinand de Saussure. Gonson shines on songs like Yeah! Oh, Yeah!, Acoustic Guitar, and Zebra while Simms ruled on I'm Sorry I Love You leaving most of the cuts to Merritt while Dudley Klute hypnotizes everyone in Blue You and It's A Crime.

There are so many songs to cover but not enough time yet all of them have something to offer. Lyrically, there Merritt explores all the ideas of love like ageism in Time Enough For Rocking When We're Old to breaking up in I Don't Want To Get Over You. The main theme of love is dominant throughout the entire album, even in the shortest tracks of Punk Love and Experimental Love Music might seem like fillers but they're fun to listen to. Yet there are some great songs that feature great lyrics. Here is a sampler of some of these tracks, three from each disc:

Not for all the tea in China
not if I could sing like a bird
not for all North Carolina
not for all my little words
not if I could write for you
the sweetest song you ever heard
It doesn't matter what I do
not for all my little words

-All My Little Words

The book of love has music in it
In fact that's where music comes from
Some of it is just transcendental
Some of it is just really dumb
but I...
I love it when you sing to me
And you...
You can sing me anything

-The Book Of Love

For the love of a sweet-lovin' man
some have traveled far and wide
some of have given up and died
For the love of a sweet-lovin' man
some have broken down and cried
some have turned to dust inside
but I'll stay right here and hide
in the arms of my sweet-lovin' man

-Sweet Lovin' Man

Dying all day in thousands of little ways
Dancing alone and drinking a lot
Closing the clubs and haunting the cabarets
looking for what
Another five years off your life...
A year goes by
She doesn't...
If you don't cry, it isn't love
If you don't cry
then you just don't feel it deep enough

-If You Don't Cry

And a long-forgotten fairytale is in your eyes again
And I'm caught inside a dream world where the colors are too intense
And nothing is making sense

-Long-Forgotten Fairytale

Papa was a rodeo, Mama was a rock n' roll band
I could play guitar and rope a steer
before I learned to stand
Home was anywhere with diesel gas
Love was a trucker's hand
Never stuck around long enough for a one-night stand
Before you kiss me, you should now
Papa was a rodeo

-Papa Was A Rodeo

A single rose in your garden dwells
Like any rose it's not itself
It is my love in your garden grows
but let's pretend it's just a rose
Well I'm sorry that I love you
It's a phase I'm going through
There is nothing that I can do
and I'm sorry that I love you

-I'm Sorry I Love You

Acoustic guitar, if you think I play heard
well, you could have belonged to Steve Earle
or Charo or GWAR
I could sell you tomorrow
so bring me back my girl
You'd better bring me back my girl

-Acoustic Guitar

If you really loved me, you'd buy me a beautiful pearl
but you've already bought me all the pearls in the world
so there's one thing I crave when my days become ho-hum and blah
I want a zebra


Those are just examples of Merritt's brilliance as a lyricist. They're all filled with imagination and cleverness through the catchiness of pop tunes. It's not just a three-CD album of love song but great love songs. Anyone interested in the works of the Magnetic Fields or Stephin Merritt himself should get all three of these records. Whether as a box set or through separate CDs, it's an experience that is indescribable to listen to. Anyone wants funny, touching stories of love, get 69 Love Songs.

The Magnetic Fields Reviews: (Distant Plastic Trees) - (The Wayward Bus) - (The House of Tomorrow EP) - (Holiday) - (The Charm of the Highway Strip) - (Get Lost) - (i) - (Distortion) - (Realism)

(C) thevoid99 2011

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