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The Magnetic Fields: 69 Songs About Love

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The Magnetic Fields

Album: 69 Songs About Love

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Stephin Merritt is nothing if not ambitious. As the songwriter, instrumentalist, and/or singer for such conceptually ambitious bands as The Magnetic Fields, The Gothic Archies, The 6ths, and Future Bible Heroes, Merritt has made some of the decade's best music, yet still presides over only a small but fervent cult. Perhaps his impossibly daring, breathtakingly gorgeous new 69 Songs About Love will change his commercial fortunes, but it's hard to imagine those unfamiliar with Merritt picking up an album that contains almost twice as many songs as Big Star ever recorded. Originally conceived as an upscale musical revue, 69 Songs About Love finds Merritt once again letting other people sing his songs, allotting Claudia Gonson, Shirley Simms, Dudley Klute, and L.D. Beighton six songs apiece and leaving for himself a mere 45 songs to sing. As usual, Merritt saves most of the best material for himself, but no matter who's singing his words, the songs all bear his singular voice, which sounds simultaneously romantic and bleak, witty and moving, and clever in a way that's never facile. Willfully, forcefully eclectic, the album shifts gears, tones, and genres constantly, moving effortlessly from Charm Of The Highway Strip-style electro-twang to simple, unadorned folk music, to melancholy, Broadway-style show tunes, to far too many other genres to mention. Alternately recalling the best work of Blondie, Leonard Cohen, Depeche Mode, and dozens more, 69 Songs About Love is a sprawling masterpiece of White Album-like proportions. Like that record, it's messy, disjointed, and uneven, but it's an embarrassment of riches, a rich, multi-dimensional collection that demands and rewards repeated exposures. Of course, it'll appeal primarily to Merritt's loyal cult, but for anyone who enjoys smart, literate pop music for grown-ups, 69 Songs About Love is amazing.