69 Love Songs by The Magnetic Fields (1999)


Artist: The Magnetic Fields
Album: 69 Love Songs
Year: 1999
Genre: Soft Rock

Mood: every possible mood surrounding love and relationships

You’ll like this if you like: Johnny Cash, The National, the vampire musical from Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Best Tracks: impossible to choose

Why Should You Care?
A music blogger writing about 69 Love Songs is comparable to an art reviewer tackling the Mona Lisa. Seriously. It’s borderline arrogant for me to even begin to write about this collection, so rather than stand back in awe, I’m just gonna say whatever the hell I want about it!

The easy first impression for a casual music fan to make about 69 Love Songs would be “this is boring, and his voice is annoying”. I get it…frontman Stephen Merritt has a deep, droning voice that sounds nothing like what you’ll hear in pop music. And most songs have a similar slowish tempo, so the pace of the album is consistently relaxed. If those two qualities will scare you away, you are allowed to stop reading right now and go back to your regularly scheduled Top 40 radio afternoon show.

Still here? Good choice. But 69 Love Songs requires you to dive in completely. So get ready…buy a bottle of wine (or four), clear your schedule for three hours, find a lover or close friend, and hit Play. This ain’t gonna be easy…there are literally 69 songs in the collection. And as I said before, Merritt (who sings on most, but not all of the album) is about to cover every plausible angle of relationships, break-ups and best of all the I-love-you-but-I-can’t-stand-you topic! There’s a ton of dry humor in here too…so while it may be tempting to sit back and relax once you find the groove of 69 Love Songs, don’t forget to pay attention. A great example comes during ‘Yeah! Oh, Yeah!’, an absolutely hilarious call-and-answer song where Merritt repeatedly replies “yeah” as his wife asks if he is annoyed by her, culminating in the epic lyric: ”What a dark and dreary life/ Are you reaching for a knife?/ Could you really kill your wife?” …answered of course by the beautifully sung: ”Yeah! Oh, yeah!” Okay, so spousal abuse isn’t funny obviously, but the juxtaposition of murder against beautiful music and honest Q&A between characters is Shakespearian and compelling. You have absolutely no sense of humor if you can’t enjoy the song’s ending lyric: “Was my whole life just a lie?/ Yeah! Oh, yeah!”

There isn’t a central theme of the collection other than “love songs”. Those looking for a common thread, or trying to “figure it out” are going to be disappointed. The songs were written by Merritt as a performance piece…he wanted them all to be presented together live on stage by drag queens! While 69 Love Songs is a textbook concept album, the concept itself is simple: love songs, not love. As Merritt said himself, “69 Love Songs is not remotely an album about love. It’s an album about love songs, which are very far away from anything to do with love.” Brilliant. Click the link to read an interview with the writer, as I can’t wrap my head any further around the concept because I’m dying to talk about more songs!

I thought for a long time about which songs to present to you as a snapshot of 69 Love Songs…I decided I would choose a few, and then randomly select a few more.

‘The Book of Love’ – a no-brainer starting point…easily the most popular song from this collection, covered many times by artists from the guy in the coffee shop, to Peter Gabriel. It’s cute and cliché, but among the cloudy views of love spread throughout 69 Love Songs this one jumps out like a ray of sunshine reminding you that the struggle is worth it in the end.

‘Abigail, Belle of Kilronan’ – one of the saddest and most beautiful songs ever written. A soldier off to war is torn between his love and his duty. Even though I’m probably off-base from what Merritt intended while writing this song, I like to think of it as the soldier telling his young daughter to grow up strong and find love. I’m probably interpreting this lyric too literally: “When I come home/ If I come home/ You’ll be a grown woman/…/ Don’t be alone”

‘Washington, DC’ – sung by Claudia Gonson, the song begins like a cheerleader spelling out the city’s name, and the lyrics don’t get much deeper from there. She’s basically just shouting out the place where her “baby” lives, and therefore where she wants to be. Simple and happy!

‘How to Say Goodbye’ – sometimes the love you think is so true and meaningful is just a crock of shit. The singer is left dumbfounded that his lover walked away, and was able to find love elsewhere. How could someone who only knows how to lie and say goodbye have found true love and gotten married?

‘The Death of Ferdinand De Saussure’ – this one could actually have gotten radio play…it would fit right in among bands like The Smiths or Echo & the Bunnymen. But what are they talking about? I had no clue, looked around online for a while, and this blog provided my favorite explanation.

‘Papa Was a Rodeo’ – straightforward message from a drifter raised by the road, letting it be known that he’s not up for anything long-term. “Never stuck around long enough for a one-stand stand” is epic. “Love was a trucker’s hand” is vulgar and hilarious. Merritt knocks it out of the park by wrapping the song up in duet form, where the singers (presumably both male) reflect on their love of 55 years that was solidified by their similar upbringing.

Anyone who has ever turned to music in a time of introspection will appreciate 69 Love Songs. You have to. Maybe you don’t need it right now…but any time you’re looking for an artistic expression of how you’re feeling toward love, check back with 69 Love Songs and I’m sure you’ll find what you’re looking for!

music turtle recommends: SAVE UP, AND DIVE IN WHEN YOU’RE READY!

What do you think about this album? Comment below


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