Playing God
The Magnetic Fields: 69 Love Songs

taking the Playing God article on Loveless (by Andrew Unterberger) as a cue, the hope to analyze and distill The Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs into one CD is less to cure a wreck of an album, but instead, provide a more traditional form to enjoy the box set. Although the sheer volume of material within 69 Love Songs makes the whole difficult to digest in one sitting, the box-set is undeniably forward-thinking, placing the emphasis on the single, perfect for the auspices of this column. After three hours of Merritt’s melodies, the 69 songs can become quite an endurance test even to the strongest believers (myself included).

The Magnetic Field’s 69 Love Songs presents a title that is both whimsical and massive. With tongue firmly in cheek, or completely matter-of-fact, the title employs a dual-address that suggests the album is in murkier water than a clever joke, or “magnum opus” in the traditional sense of an album. The dual-address also allows a merging of very contradictory emotions and tones to better express the most clichéd of music topics.

As Stephen Merritt uses an incredibly diverse stylistic interpretation of the pop song, attempting to judge a song’s merits over another becomes, in essence, a choice of taste. Instead, my tastes run a bit askew, so that the most significant moments on 69 Love Songs are the juxtaposition of two styles. Within the structured sequence, no song can be isolated in the manner that chance (like a jukebox) would allow—there’s a deliberateness to the order of the songs. So, in my restructuring of 69 Love Songs into a single CD, I chose my favorite pairs (or sequences) of songs from the box set. To put this together into one CD, I was forced to use an equal amount of sequencing set in place by the original recording and my interpretation thereof.

1. Absolutely Cuckoo

69 Love Song’s beginning is irrefutable—“Absolutely Cuckoo” begins with the perfect Catch-22, an upfront narrator, who warns of his personality. Is he sane because he understands his insanity or just crazy as he pulls you in? This prologue fitfully begins with a paradox of blank truth—a warning of earnestness and absurdity

2. When My Boy Walks Down the Street

Using a dubbed beginning that harks back to Creation’s “Making Time”, “When My Boy Walks Down the Street” is blissfully smitten in love. Propelling into the exploration of love after the disclaimer of “Absolutely Cuckoo,” this song dives head fist into the joy that inevitably accompanies the beginning of a relationship.

3. Time Enough for Rocking When We’re Old

Merritt’s thick baritone voice gives “Time Enough” a weight of age, and churns along, providing a counter to “When My Boy…”’s enraptured moment. The harrowing sense of expectant nostalgia and understanding of frailty, gives the empowerment of “When My Boy…” perspective.

4. Washington, D.C.

The adolescent insinuation of the faux-high school chant leading in this song reminds of the innocent return in the search for love. “Washington D.C.” also makes use of piano-line which entrances (dare I say, like Coldplay’s recent “Clocks”), and allows to forget about the future complications. The experimentation of pop’s form and content (a lesbian love affair) is bizarrely sublime.

5. Long Forgotten Fairytale

Ahh, and future complications. With the detached synths, the line “You said there’s nothing to explain/in every life a little rain/et cetera” cuts coldly, remembering everything. Another example that using 80’s vocabulary isn’t really new, no matter how many bands are trying to sound like New Order at the moment.

6. It’s a Crime

After the cold and robotic synths of “Long Forgotten Fairytale,” “It’s a Crime” returns to a warm, dripping synths of the Mouse on Mars-variety. The song finds recovery in a very sacrificial sense, especially with “You won't be hearing from me anymore/cause I can't see through my tears anymore.”

7. Busby Berkeley Dreams

In attempt to grasp onto something long and forgotten, the Elton John-like piano appears to be even more painfully aware of the overly-dramatic dive into nostalgia. “Busby Berkeley Dreams” plunges into depression like a cannonball, so that “I’m Sorry I Love You” jumps out with a greater force.

8. I’m Sorry I Love You

With a folk-garage rock underpinning, the lost lyrics of rejection present forgotten love like a forgotten band from a Nuggets collection. The song is straightforwardly tragic, in a variety of forms, and is celebratory because of it.

9. A Chicken With Its Head Cut Off

The surreal “Chicken With Its Head Cut Off” plays with direct emotion, detaching the heart into a soon-to-be-dead barn animal. The straight baritone vocals coupled with the throw-away juvenile lyrics attempt to grab for a love less fleeting than “electric eels under the covers”

10. Reno, Dakota

Balancing the humorous “Chicken,” “Reno, Dakota” is a sparse look at non-sense of love, from another angle. With “Pantone 292” and “It makes me drink beer,” bitterness accompanies this tugging of heart-strings. The immediacy found in the disarming claims and simple guitar-plucking gives the song a feel of a journal, accompanied by many (purposely) awful drawings.

11. Yeah! Oh, yeah!

The gentle tolerance of the loss of a relationship is nicely used in the warm atmospherics of “Yeah! Oh yeah!” The song avoids overtly slipping into bitterness and instead presents a hollowing of emotion to fight anger, similar to Radiohead’s “Nice Dream.”

12. Meaningless

And with “Yeah! Oh Yeah!”’s indifferent acceptance, “Meaningless” presents a bitterness that cannot be subsided. “Meaningless” is direct and doesn’t need to feign ambiguity, instead preferring to kick in as many teeth as necessary. The music belies the lyrics, with an over-dramatic rendering giving

13. How Fucking Romantic

An arrhythmic a cappella, “How Fucking Romantic” uses a teddy bear to under-express a very poignant anger. The vocals and finger-snaps render “Meaningless”’s bite as a mere whimper. Instead, as a replacement, “How Fucking Romantic” has dripping sarcasm, and demeaning simplicity. This is a good time to mention that this is *My Favorite Song of the Album*

14. The One You Really Love

The permanent disconnect provides another view after the completely embittered loss of love found in “How Fucking Romantic.” This song haunts me, mostly for the ambiguity of whether “the one” is another person, or the reminiscing of a partner changed during the course of a relationship.

15. My Sentimental Melody

Against the bare “One You Really Love,” the accordion-driven “My Sentimental Melody” is built to accept the apparent lame fate of the song (and love).

16. Nothing Matters When We’re Dancing

Like a freeze-frame ending of a movie, “Nothing Matters” presents a timeless image to conclude the breadth of emotion on my 69 Love Songs abridged. The backing music supports a timeless ukulele trance, relaxed and content; bringing the album to a listless close.

By: Nate De Young
Published on: 2004-01-27
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