Review Summary: you said you were in love with me – both of us know that that’s impossible.
Even from the outset, Stephen Merritt’s 69 Love Songs
resembles a masterpiece in all of its faculties; after its subtle and delicate layers are peeled away with every listen, no doubt is left in one’s mind that this truly is a monumental record. Despite taking an album or two to really find its feet, Merritt’s Magnetic Fields project set conditions for the niche it was to explore with 1994’s Charm of the Highway Strip
, with the following two albums Holiday
and Get Lost
furthering Merritt’s own standing as a musician. Going back over the Magnetic Fields’ discography, the build-up to 69 Love Songs
is a joy to trace – the way Merritt proclaims his concepts in such vivid pop parody hits its stride with Holiday
, and 69 Love Songs
is seemingly the pinnacle of this thematic realisation, entertaining a concept so broad and filled with so much emotion that it was only appropriate to dedicate 69 songs and 3 entire discs to it.
As the record’s title would suggest, the entirety of the album is driven by love in all of its forms: from heartbreak, to pure joy; from new beginnings, to desperate longing. Many a critique has been given to the album for its supposed ‘filler’ – now of course with so many tracks there will naturally be a number that any one person will not be too fond of (even I, the lover Merritt never had, ignore a particular few), but the substantial poignancy found in the majority of this record cannot go past unnoticed. It pains me to know that there exist people who simply cannot appreciate or perhaps understand the genius of Merritt’s style, but unfortunately they do, and any claims of this record being an overly long collection of insipid and bland synth-pop songs is ignorant to the furthest depths of frustration.
The driving force of the Magnetic Fields is undoubtedly Merritt’s lyrical wit – the sheer simplicity of his words is awe-inspiring in the face of how affecting they can be, and the concepts behind his individual songs are often childish to the extreme. This of course what makes the record the masterpiece that it is. On 69 Love Songs
Merritt sings about not believing in the sun (‘I Don’t Believe in the Sun’ – ‘how could it shine down on everyone, but not shine down on me"’
), screwing like rabbits (‘Let’s Pretend We’re Bunny Rabbits’ – ‘let’s do it all day long’
), needing a new heart (‘I Think I Need a New Heart’ – ‘it all comes out wrong unless I put it in a song’
) and a plethora of other imaginative songs. Cutesy songs like ‘I Think I Need a New Heart’ or ‘Absolutely Cuckoo’ are very catchy yet still moving through Merritt’s charms, and the morose feel of songs such as in ‘All My Little Words’ or ‘I Don’t Want to Get Over You’ are equally as touching.
Undoubtedly some songs are far more likeable than others – the core of the record is the attraction that all of its little emotional snippets can give, from the most invigorating bliss you have ever felt to the very depths of pessimism. Merritt treads on every step between these two extremes, and it is his immaculate song-writing which manages to fulfil the endless sentiment that he is as aspiring to capture. While the majority of the album is very much likeable, and the odd few tracks perhaps may be forgettable, the strength of the record’s truly perfect songs is simply astounding. ‘Epitaph For My Heart’ is one such song, a piece of mesmerising folk that invokes all existential feeling into a desolate and loveless frenzy – ‘Let this be the epitaph for my heart / Cupid put too much poison in the dart / This is the epitaph for my heart / Because it's gone, gone gone’
. Even in the most fragile of moments Merritt never seems to lose his dry wit – the line of ‘Who will mourn the passing of my heart / Will its little droppings climb the pop chart’
from the aforementioned track very much epitomizing Merritt’s ironic and self-parodying approach to his own music.
The lyrical content of many of Merritt’s songs are in fact rather comical, yet still manage to be heartfelt and very much affecting, a juxtaposition which encapsulates the far-reaching talent Merritt has. A careful listen to some of the song’s lyrics is all the proof one needs of this fact. ‘Bitter Tears’ is one of the more depressing tracks on 69 Love Songs
, and is driven by the line ‘Bitter tears keep me going / Through the years freely flowing / What have you done / Only a gun could stop these bitter tears’
. It’s a mere compliment to Merritt’s song-writing that he manages to make his wit apparent, be it in a subtle manner or as blunt as a brick to the face. In fact, the bluntness and straightforward nature of many of the songs are what really catch the listener’s attention – songs like ‘I Shatter’, ‘Kiss Me Like You Mean It’ or ‘I’m Sorry I Love You’ do not hide behind cryptic lyrics and just filter complexity into simple lyrics. ‘I Shatter’ is one of the best tracks on the record; hearing the line ‘ Some fall in love / I shatter
’ sung by what seems to be a robot is not only forcefully poignant, but rather amusing.
69 Love Songs
, in the eyes of this listener, is a masterpiece. It is a record about love, and it captures those feelings we all feel, all of those moments where events in our lives cause us to feel an array of love-induced emotions. The literal nature of Merritt’s music is absolutely perfect, and I am completely convinced that everybody will find not just one but many stray feelings floating around this record, melodies and lyrics that they can grapple onto and use to pull themselves out of whatever mire they’re sinking in. 69 Love Songs
is also Merritt’s personal masterpiece, the culmination of his style – naturally select songs from any of his other albums are as good as the ones found here, but as an expression of a single concept, 69 Love Songs
is unrivalled by not only Merritt’s own work but simply in the general realm of music itself. The two albums that succeed 69 Love Songs
showcase Merritt streamlining his conceptual way of writing albums, and the upcoming Realism
is again yet another sample of Merritt’s genius. If you believe in love, if you have ever loved, if you ever plan to love, then hear these 69 love songs.
I don't want to get over you.
I guess I could take a sleeping pill and sleep at will and not have to
go through what I go through.
I guess I should take Prozac, right, and just smile all night at somebody new,
Somebody not too bright but sweet and kind
who would try to get you off my mind.
I could leave this agony behind
which is just what I'd do if I wanted to,
but I don't want to get over you cause I don't want to get over love.
I could listen to my therapist, pretend you don't exist
and not have to dream of what I dream of; I could listen
to all my friends and go out again and pretend it's enough,
or I could make a career of being blue--I could dress
in black and read Camus, smoke clove cigarettes and drink vermouth
like I was 17, that would be a scream
but I don't want to get over you.