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The Magnetic Fields: 69 Love Songs

Love songs in more varieties than Heinz

Image Trying to write the songbook of love

If, as Stephin Merritt sings, love "makes your words more flowery;" if 69 turns two into one, groping head to tail back over themselves, together forever (or, until orgasm); if all love songs are just blurs of the Love Song, the one that's refracted into a zillion down-on-one-knee-begging-you-please moments on KC-101; then maybe, just maybe, the Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs is the most momentous statement of love ever—one that's got me writing florid prose and crying into my pillow. Then again, maybe it's just 69 love songs on three CDs, a concept album with a vengeance. Or, perhaps, it's both at once—love song and true love, representation and the thing itself.

"The book of love is long and boring/No one can lift the damn thing," Merrit sings. He knows: the book writes itself, the difficulty comes in its retelling. Love songs are just pretty readings—though there's no way to capture real emotion in words once removed, timeworn banalities suffice by forming colorful blanks upon which we project. But Merritt one-ups the process, inflating clichés into luftballons that explode in your eye once it decides not to blink ("A melody is like a pretty girl/Who cares if it's/The dumbest in the world?").

Merritt realizes that love songs are dishonest propositions (he's not really singing just for you). As he says, "My sincerity can be questioned"—the Fields make sure to poke holes in the veneer. For instance, the music itself—by turns alchemical and acoustic, convincing and distracting—is always simply, opaquely synthetic. But like a vocoded Cher, love is believable even in artifice—when the synthpop sparklers shoot into the sky, burning holes alongside the stars and sputtering back to earth, fake just don't matter.

"The book of love has music in it/In fact that's where music comes from/Some of it is just transcendental/Some of it is just really dumb." 69 Love Songs tries to be all of music at once, churning out every genre of love song ever as fast as it can. That levels the playing field—the 57-second "Punk Love," (with "rock," the title and lyrics), is as good in its way as the five-minute rassler "Papa Was a Rodeo"—but leads to the inevitable emotional cold fish and lame bar napkin ditties, sometimes for songs at a time.

What it comes down to, as often as not, is the singer. Merritt's threatening, seductive voice breathes "Fuck me," even as most profanities are elided away ("You scare me out of my wits/When you do that Shit/zu/Fido, your leash is too long"). When I saw the Fields live, I wanted to bear Merritt's child, until I realized I'm neither gay nor with uterus.

If Merritt is the bad boy pushing some sap off a cliff, Dudley Klute is the sap, overly dramatic new-wave feyness and all. And Claudia Gonson is the cliff, asserting herself quietly in a downright deadly way. L.D. Beghtol's initials, on the other hand, must stand for "limp dick"—he couldn't charm his way out of a Radcliffe mixer.

Still, after all of this maneuvering through disparate sounds and singers, Merritt is the one crooning front and center at the end of the night, cradling a glass of Pinot Grigio and the mic, seducing. But then, an intrusion—a wink too many, new singer, bum song, trip to the can—ends the reverie (and deflates the erection). Love is swell, but its moments are fleeting, even 69 of them. Thankfully, the Magnetic Fields bother to proposition, because in the asking, words are sometimes returned as love. (Merge)

Sam Frank

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