The Magnetic Fields - 69 Love Songs

Album cover

    disc 1

  1. Absolutely Cuckoo (1:33)
  2. I Don't Believe in the Sun (4:15)
  3. All My Little Words (2:46)
  4. A Chicken With Its Head Cut Off (2:41)
  5. Reno Dakota (1:04)
  6. I Don't Want To Get Over You (2:22)
  7. Come Back from San Francisco (2:47)
  8. The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side (3:42)
  9. Let's Pretend We're Bunny Rabbits (2:24)
  10. The Cactus Where Your Heart Should Be (1:10)
  11. I Think I Need a New Heart (2:32)
  12. The Book of Love (2:41)
  13. Fido, Your Leash Is Too Long (2:34)
  14. How Fucking Romantic (0:58)
  15. The One You Really Love (2:53)
  16. Punk Love (0:58)
  17. Parades Go By (2:56)
  18. Boa Constrictor (0:58)
  19. A Pretty Girl Is Like (1:50)
  20. My Sentimental Melody (3:07)
  21. Nothing Matters When We're Dancing (2:27)
  22. Sweet-Lovin' Man (4:59)
  23. The Things We Did And Didn't Do (2:13)

    disc 2

  1. Roses (0:26)
  2. Love Is Like Jazz (2:55)
  3. When My Boy Walks Down The Street (2:37)
  4. Time Enough For Rocking When We're Old (2:03)
  5. Very Funny (1:25)
  6. Grand Canyon (2:26)
  7. No One Will Ever Love You (3:12)
  8. If You Don't Cry (3:03)
  9. You're My Only Home (2:16)
  10. (Crazy For You But) Not That.. (2:18)
  11. My Only Friend (2:00)
  12. Promises Of Eternity (3:44)
  13. World Love (3:07)
  14. Washington D.C. (1:52)
  15. Long-Forgotten Fairytale (3:35)
  16. Kiss Me Like You Mean It (2:00)
  17. Papa Was A Rodeo (5:00)
  18. Epitaph For My Heart (2:48)
  19. Asleep And Dreaming (1:52)
  20. The Sun Goes Down And The World Goes Dancing (2:46)
  21. The Way You Say Good-Night (2:44)
  22. Abigail, Belle Of Kilronan (2:00)
  23. I Shatter (3:09)

    disc 3

  1. Underwear (2:49)
  2. It's a Crime (3:54)
  3. Busby Berkeley Dreams (3:36)
  4. I'm Sorry I Love You (3:06)
  5. Accoustic Guitar (2:37)
  6. The Death of Ferdinand de Saussure (3:11)
  7. Love in the Shadows (2:54)
  8. Bitter Tears (2:51)
  9. Wi' Nae Wee Bairn Ye'll Me Beget (1:55)
  10. Yeah! Oh, Yeah! (2:19)
  11. Experimental Music Love (0:29)
  12. Meaningless (2:08)
  13. Love Is Like a Bottle of Gin (1:46)
  14. Queen of the Savages (2:12)
  15. Blue You (3:03)
  16. I Can't Touch You Anymore (3:05)
  17. Two Kinds of People (1:10)
  18. How to Say Goodbye (2:48)
  19. The Night You Can't Remember (2:17)
  20. For We Are the King of the Boudoir (1:14)
  21. Strange Eyes (2:01)
  22. Xylophone Track (2:47)
  23. Zebra (2:15)

Merge, 1999

It's pop music's favourite emotion, and with this great splurge of creativity, songwriter Stephin Merritt marked himself as somebody who Just Knows about all its glorified and lamented facets. Reaching a cheekily rounded total of three times twenty-three ditties, lasting a total of three hours, he effortlessly tours through musical styles. Synth-pop, show tunes, crooner ballads, swampy country, breezy folk-rock, ambient techno, and twisted genre-defying studio experiments are delivered with ease.

Merritt himself does a large proportion of the vocals in his distinctive bass-baritone croon, assisted by the deadpan Claudia Gonson, and other guests when the songs' ranges require. The backdrop is a menagerie of stringed and keyboard instruments, seeming to refresh us with a fresh canvas every time. His trusty ukulele serves as a solid fall-back. Mostly acoustic but there's occasional forays into tinny synth-pop.

Any attempt to pick stand-out tracks is going to be arbitrarily unfair. From the exact placing of syllables on "Absolutely Cuckoo", through the idiotically catchy "Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side" and straightforwardly sincere ballads like "The Book of Love" to the airy Fleetwood Mac pastiche "Sweet Lovin' Man", disc 1 alone is a lot to take in at once. Merritt puts an A at the beginning of the set and a Z at the end, but shuffle mode or random-play was invented to make fairly appraising albums like this easier. Dipping into disc 2 you might perk up the ears at the luminous acoustic "Time Enough for Rocking When We're Old" the lazy country of "Papa Was a Rodeo", or the rumbling basso profundo of "I Shatter". On the third third, skipping the dodgy Ace of Base-style reggae on "It's a Crime" is worth it to reach wistful piano-backed melancholy like "Busby Berkeley Dreams".

With his deftness with words and casual fluency with tunes, he avoids making the album a mere list-making exercise, producing a sprawling cabaret of pop. The quality of the songwriting here more than earns Merritt the right to goof around on the occasional throwaway one-idea nugget like "Punk Love" and "Experimental Music Love". "Love is like Jazz" on the other hand, twists its one idea deliciously into an incisive parody. His cleverness is smiling and approachable, unlike the geeky misanthropy of, say, They Might Be Giants.

Maybe the Magnetic Fields are still seen as "cult" because of the of their eclecticism. While they're probably happy to remain that way, it's not too hard to imagine some of these songs becoming a new set of love standards for the 21st century. It's certainly enough for me to keep delving into throughout 2005, discovering new glints in the gems every time.

April 2, 2005

8 out of 10

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written and maintained by Christopher Jackson