“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…”
There, I said it. In 1999 Stephin Merritt played out a century whose musical output was predominantly top heavy with the rainbow of permutations a soul could intellectualize the abstract desire of fixating on an individual as a preamble to jonesing for — to jump their bones — by releasing 69 Love Songs, an album that casually challenged many established notions of the well-worn form by brazenly interchanging genders and situations to make the first truly PoMoSexual collection of songs celebrating the age-old subject.
There’s always a temptation to fall into a backward comparison when writing album reviews, but it’s especially warranted in this case more than most. Merritt surely knew that by such a grand undertaking he was embarking upon something that, even had it been a mark missing, pretentious failure, would have been a career/life-defining moment. Such is any declaration of love to an oblivious recipient. It’s not out of laziness that I dwell on this Herculean release 174 words into analyzing an album that toddles in that general direction. Despite having unknowingly already been familiar with The Magnetic Fields via the stellar undercurrents provided for Nickelodeon’s “The Adventures of Pete & Pete,” it was with 69 Love Songs that I popped my Merritt cherry, and it left such a mark as to likely infuriate my current beau with its indelible associations — but you never forget that first time. It’s my first Magnetic love, the benchmark for everything that followed. That, and I have no choice, given the songs on this release of odds & ends are either highly reminiscent of everyone’s favorite three-disc tryst, or were written and dismissed in the run-up to him truly flexing his love muscle.
Obscurities opener “Forever and a Day” — is so beautiful that were it employed to lead in an ill advised Another 69 Love Songs, any sequel cynicism would be immediately obliterated, and across the course of its painstakingly patient two minutes, one’s excitement could scarcely be contained any better than a rabid cat at a rodent old folks home. Speaking of which, “Rats in the Garbage of the Western World,” after the sumptuous, achingly typical opener is surprisingly unironic and pointed in its lyrics. Likewise, “Rot in the Sun” takes a decidedly matter of fact tone to it’s acerbic dismissal of Top 40 pop, but has the luxury of the most joyously infective pop hook. That Merritt could sling songs like this on a B-Side in 1993 is a terrifying testimony to his already perfectly formed song-writing chops.
Unfortunately Obscurities has its bum notes too. “I Don’t Believe You (7-inch Version)” the most impeccably crafted track from 69 Love Songs‘ successor i is in too much of a hurry for its own good. Its schizophrenic, pitch-shifted vocals carouse around too dizzyingly for it’s wonderfully indignant lyrics to stick. While album closer “You Are Not My Mother And I Want to Go Home,” despite the promise of its interesting title is basically a rehearsal for “Fido, Your Leash is Too Long.” As with all Merritt’s myriad releases there’s more than enough to make it worth one’s while, as he tirelessly parades his endlessly interesting, bottomless songbook.
The Magnetic Fields – i
Future Bible Heroes – Memories of Love
6ths – Wasps’ Nests