Looking back, 69 Love Songs — it wasn’t that great.
Sure, it’s quite a feat for one person to set out to write 100 love songs, only to pare it down by 31 just so a single evening performance doesn’t stretch more than three hours.
And it’s quite amazing one person would pretty much play all the instruments and sing all 69 songs.
And of course, props must be given for sticking to a single theme for all 69 pieces of music.
But the Magnetic Fields’ 1999 epic isn’t immune to the perils of any multi-volume album — there’s a point where a writer has just gotta pad.
Five years later, it’s pretty tough to sit through even the first 23 of those 69.
i, the Magnetic Fields’ follow-up album, could have easily been considered a fourth volume of an increasingly, inaccurately named trilogy of love songs.
Thankfully, head honcho Stephin Merritt opted for a different conceit — all the song titles on the album start with the letter “I”. But all of them deal with that most versatile of themes, nonetheless: love.
So why prattle on about how much 69 Love Songs doesn’t age very well? Because i achieves better results with a fraction of the quantity.
Merritt once again lets his home studio muse apply cabaret-style writing to a myriad of genres. Hell, he even does a bit of techno (“I Thought You Were My Boyfriend”.)
Maybe it’s the major label budget, but i sounds richer than its predecessor, even though Merritt sticks to the same timbral pallette — cello, violin, guitar, banjo, ukelele and the cheapest damn sounding Kurzweil 2000 on the planet.
Better still is Merritt’s writing, which benefits from focusing on 14 tracks than 69.
“I Wish I Had an Evil Twin” indulges in some clever id fantasies, but the song’s protagonist has enough sense to admit “evil is not my cup of tea”.
The line about “ampersand and ampersand” is pretty clever on “I Don’t Believe You”, but I wonder if he really meant ellipses. (“So you quote love unquote me” is a better line.)
“Is This What They Used to Call Love” could easily be sung by a jazz singer or a Broadway performer, but Merritt places the song close to the end of the album, which heightens its drama just a bit more.
Sequencing is such a lost art.
Perhaps that’s what makes i easier to digest than 69 Love Songs — i is an album, whereas 69 Love Songs is just a songbook. There’s a better sense of direction on i, which makes all the genre-jumping seem more organic.