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All the press that’s surrounded the Magnetic Fields’ epic 69 Love Songs is enough to make a perfect movie poster.
The most reviewed album of the year!
A ’56 T-Bird convertible in an SUV world!
Then the Village Voice put Magnetic Fields’ ringleader Stephin Merrit on its cover, painting him like some withdrawn artistic hermit.
The Notebook can dig that. So it bought all three volumes of 69 Love Songs.
As of press time, the Notebook still can’t decide whether it likes or loves all three volumes of 69 Love Songs. It can, however, make a list of notes and impressions, which taken together can paint some semblance of a review.
Like: Lyrics. “Acoustic guitar/If you think I play hard/You could’ve been owned by Steve Earle/Or Charo or GWAR/I could sell you tomorrow/If you only bring me back my girl.” Anyone who can work Charo, GWAR and Steve Earle in a song about how an acoustic guitar could be used as a tool of seduction deserves props.
Like: Variety. Stephin Merritt is no John Zorn, but the breadth of moods, styles and genres certainly merits (pun not intended) a comparrison. From piano ballads to ukelele ditties, 69 Love Songs excludes little.
Dislike: Merritt’s voice. His baritone borders on the monotone, and his range is extremely limited.
Like: Merritt’s voice. Because of its limitations, Merritt calls to mind Lou Reed and Bob Dylan — spectacular songwriters who have average or below average (in the case of Dylan) voices.
Like: The writing. Merritt is all over the map, and that’s a good thing.
Dislike: The interpretation. In very many instances, songs on all three volumes could have lent themselves to very lavish interpretations.
Like: The possibiliites. Of course, the fact that Merritt has produced this body of work is enough to allow everyone else a crack at keeping it alive. Hell, Whitney Houston would have to try extremely hard to ruin one of Merritt’s songs. (Although it’s been established she can.)
Perhaps the most astonishing thing about 69 Love Songs is its lack of a real program. Aside from its title, the album is really little more than a songbook. It’s not a grand work on the scale of Nine Inch Nail’s The Fragile or Café Tacuba’s Reves/Yosoy — double albums, both — and it works on that level.
(Café Tacuba’s Reves/Yosoy is really two albums released as one, sort of like Bruce Springsteen’s Lucky Town and Human Touch. Which means it’s still better than The Fragile.)
After a week of listening to 69 Love Songs in various situations — on the road, in the office at home — Vols. 1 and 3 stand out as exceptional. The jury is still out with Vol. 2. Nonetheless, the composite review pretty much arrives at this conclusion: you can’t go wrong with 69 Love Songs.