The Magnetic Fields: Classic or Dud?

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I'm not sure anymore. I'm leaning towards "neither but overpriced." I haven't listened in quite a long time and when I try to it feels all wrong and misplaced.

sundar subramanian, Monday, 29 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Gosh, is there anyone who gets nothing but heaps and heaps of gushing praise who I can't stand more? (answer: Morrisssey) Saw them, or do I mean him, open for Tindersticks a few years ago, and thought he was an irritating, whining geek. He's also quite full of himself. That said, I've never heard a thing off "69 Love Songs", which everyone creamed over, but wonder if I can spare the money or the time.

Sean, Monday, 29 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Gosh, is there anyone who gets nothing but heaps and heaps of gushing praise who I can't stand more?

Sean, you and I must have a CD microwave party someday. Though actually I do own three albums and have a favorite track, namely his cover of Gary Numan's "I Die You Die," which is sublime. I resist the 69 bandwagon to this day, though, as what I've heard from it moved me not at all.

Ned Raggett, Monday, 29 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

i love the magnetic fields, i mean he's smart the music is catchy and even if he is being sarcastic i can be moved by much of it and a bonus is that most of it is so easy even i can play it. i resist the temptation to deify him though, i went to the shows in san francisco when they played the entirety of 69 love songs and the crowd worship was a bit silly. the right move would be to bring back susan anway i think. ha. there is now a cottage industry of bands that sound like the wya the magnetic fields used to sound with vitesse, kitty vermont, alsace lorraine, etc...

keith, Monday, 29 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Classic, classic, classic. My favorite stuff is actually Distant Plastic Trees/The Wayward Bus, but even after hearing it a zillion times (including a few jokes that wore out) there are still lots of parts of 69 Love Songs that go straight to the pleasure centers of my reptile brain.

Also, I have very fond memories of working on a large, physical project with a couple of other people who also knew 69LS inside and out, and singing the songs in order, from memory, with my friends. (Well, we got about halfway into disc 2 before we finished.)

I mean, it's mannered as fuck, and if you can't deal with that then don't bother, but the high points are SUBLIME. (This applies even more to the 6ths--"Waltzing Me All The Way Home" gives me shivers.)

Douglas, Monday, 29 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

my favorite albums of the last ten years , balances artifice and authenticity until it hurts .

anthonyeaston, Monday, 29 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I went to see the Magnetic Fields in New York with only a smidgen of hype to guide me (basically, the Village Voice cover story and a vague mention of them on Pitchfork at one point). They ended up playing for 2 1/2 hrs. and it was one of the best concerts I had ever been to, based completely on the music. I knew none of the songs, but something made me feel like I did. Thus, I would say that much of their music feels classic to me.

Matt Denner, Monday, 29 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

is it that overpriced? i paid 18 quid for my 3CD set in HMV, which is pretty good value for 3 longish CDs

m jemmeson, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

...and you can get it for about 13 quid in independent record stores (why are the chains so expensive? What happened to purchasing power and economies of scale? Crooks)

Nick, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Yes, 'overpriced' is absurd re. 69LS - 69LS is clearly cheap at the price. (Admittedly some of the other LPs are short and expensive, esp. House of Tomorrow.)

the pinefox, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I paid $70 on sale at the only store in Ottawa that stocked 69 Love Songs at the time! Where are you located? How much does a new CD go for usually? $18 usually won't buy you a new CD at regular prices here.

Good: SM's voice. He also has a knack for a pretty 80s melody. (Of course, real 80s pop records can be found for $1 second-hand.)

Dubious: Total lack of ability on any instrument. Things were better when it was all-electronic but I'm not even convinced anymore that the electronic pop production is that much more impressive than 'NSync's.

The stripped-down instrumentation on 69LS (which should maybe have been called 69 Hate Songs) serves to put more focus on the lyrics, and here comes the crux of my problem, which I find hard to articulate. He gets compared to Morrissey but, at least with the Smiths, Morrissey wrote about specific situations, with social context and emotional nuance, resonant because they challenged romantic ideals with human detail. Self-pity was usually undercut by the illumination of the narrator's self-delusions (as in "I Know It's Over," "Reel Around the Fountain"). With some exceptions, Stephin Merritt's lyrics lack these qualities and I don't find them saying much to me. For the most part, they seems to be a string of variants on "You left me and now everything is horrible" - not that this is intrinsically useless but one could easily hear the same thing on the radio for no cost at all. The humour sometimes comes off as just as facile as the pathos. On the level of craft, he relies heavily on cliches, which are sometimes twisted cleverly and sometimes just left to sit there.

There is, as has been widely noted, quite a bit of filler on 69 LS. I'm not saying it's a total dud but I'm not sure his entire oeuvre amounts to as much as Pulp's much more affordable Different Class. I feel like I've been had.

sundar subramanian, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I loved their Get Lost album.

Kodanshi, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I feel like an idiot for posting, since my entire Merritt collection consists of one disc of 69 Love Songs, but...

his lyrics do leave me cold. There seems to me such a friggin' huge emotional distance between his subject matter in the listener. His words are so thick with commentary on the popular song there is no room for left for feeling. But he does write some great melodies and I get something out of that.

Mark, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

"...subject matter AND the listener"

Mark, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

The Magnetic Fields make me want to slash my wrists and bleed all over their fans. They are godawful fuckhead wankers. There are very few bands I feel this strongly about. The only song off the entirety of 69LS that I could even stand to listen to for more than 3 bars was Busby Berkley Dreams. Yes, that's right, ONE SONG OUT OF 69. You'd think writing up that many damned songs you'd find more than one that I could listen to, but no. And don't get me started on their earlier stuff, which is only slightly better because it's a little less wanky and conceptual and pretentious, but only slightly, it still eats it. And the Future Bible Heros! Fuck you Stephin Merrit, and that Claudia horse you rode in on.

But that's just my opinion. My extremely, extremely strong opinion.

Ally, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Specifically to Sundar:

Morrissey comparison?? red herring - no comparison, really.

Merritt all about negativity (break-up, bitterness, etc) - ? - I can't see that this is borne out by the actual material.

Lack of playing ability: I have to disagree, at least in that the guitar player and cellist are really talented. cf. for instance the gtr playing on 'Boa Constrictor'. (But I accept that you don't in general like the lo-fi sound of the LP.)

Finally - what is an 80s melody? How is it different from a 20s, 60s, 70s, 90s etc melody?

the pinefox, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Sundar, keep your hat on. We said 18/13 quid (ie. British pounds), not Canadian dollars. 18 Canadian $ is about 8 pounds. Only single disc budget reissues tend to be that cheap here. Normal price ranges from 10-15 for a single disc CD. 69 Love Songs is a bargain cause over here it costs not much more than that (and I say, in some shops it's been as little as 13 quid, or about 30 Canadian dollars) and it's a triple set.

You're right that he doesn't marry rich slices of evocative, scene-setting lyrics with lines about love in the way Morrissey used to. But no way are his songs always bloodless and unaffecting. Off 69 Love Songs try 'Meaningless', 'Yeah! Oh Yeah!', 'Absolutely Cuckoo', 'No One Will Ever Love You', 'Washington D.C.' (where what a cynic might see as sniggering pastiche instead comes across to me as a wonderful reaffirmation of belief in the simple truth of love - "It's just that's where my baby lives, that's all.."), 'All My Little Words' etc etc. And that's not to denegrate the ones where he is just playing around with the form either (with 'Love is Like Jazz" exceptions, of course...)

Nick, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I have fallen in and out and back in love with the Magnetic Fields. When I first bought 69 vol 1 I thought 'oh this is genius.' then after repeated listening grew to hate it for it's lack of what I felt was emotional risk taking. Every song seemed distanced, hidden behind clever wordplay and mocking satire. I felt that the more I listened to the album, the more bitter and cynical it became. What once made me laugh now left me aching for some lasting emotional substance. The entire album became a satire of itself. Than after a few months of not really listening to it at all, I put it on the stereo and thought 'oh this is genius.' So both classic and dud I guess, depending on your mood.

turner, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

i gave my 69ls away. i shouldn't have listened to you lot.

gareth, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

How can you say its cold. Randomly off the top of head , Papa was a rodeo was as meloncholic and hopeful as i had heard in along time , like a mirage of desire made corepral . Or the hope and whimsy of Busby Berkley Dreams . I like it because the genders and the acts melt to some kind of deep ache.

anthonyeaston, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Not really wanting to criticise anyone here but I sometimes wonder how narrow a definition of 'emotional' people must have who don't find emotion in 69 Love Songs. The album's lack of emotion has become the stick a lot of people have to beat it with - for me, it's an album I listened to so much and related to so completely that I find it really quite difficult, painful almost, to play now. There is something in criticisms of the Magnetic Fields, certainly, but I've never understood the 'unemotional' thing.

Tom, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I'd actually expand on Tom's comment, as follows:

Since the mid-eighties at latest, there's been this omnipresent fallacy in the rock/pop world that "emotion" can only be conveyed spontaneously -- that "emotion" equates to lyrics that sound like stream-of-consciousness scribblings, and is inherently absent from anything that anyone sat down and thought about and wrote. You can trace this back to the whole Appolonian / Dionysian dialectic in art, or you can just take this pithy quote from the guy who runs Double Agent: "It's the difference between the Smiths -- the articulate expression of emotion -- and Pearl Jam or Soundgarden -- the emotional expression of inarticulateness." It's a hideous fallacy -- see any emo record for evidence of this assertion - - and it's already proven untenable, in that if it were true, the Smiths would be the most emotionless rock band of the past two decades.

This, in essence, seems to be Merritt's entire intellectual agenda w/r/t the pop song -- (and I'd point out to Mark that 69 Love Songs is far more aggressive about this agenda than most of his other work, toward which I can't really understand the "distant" charge being levelled). What makes Merritt valuable, in my eyes, is that he's one of very few people today who view the text of the pop song as something that can be whole and coherent for purposes other than humor or distance. He writes as a songwriter -- rather than trying, like so many singers, to pretend that some screen has been dropped and he's right there with you, rambling in your ear, he accepts the fact that he is writing texts for your consumption and entertainment, emotionally and intellectually, and this opens up a whole realm of address and possibility that's completely absent from the aspiring-poet's-diary school of lyricists. (His whole career is worth it for one line: "You won't be happy with me, but give me one more chance; you won't be happy anyway." Who else could do that?) I'd argue that this same sort of approach extends to the music he makes, as well, but this post is probably growing long enough as it is. Suffice it to say that I feel like there's a whole complex underlying his aims, specific fallacies that he's valuable for refuting, and chief among them is this idea that it's more authentic or more emotional to watch people do than it is to watch them think -- a concept that's largely alien to me, because my primary joy in art and words comes from the fact that they alone can serve as a conduit of people's thoughts.

That said, Holiday is, like, the greatest thing ever, except maybe the Dean Wareham song on the first 6ths album.

Nitsuh, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Once again, Nitsuh is so articulate it makes me hurt.

Nick, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Agreed, Nitsuh is a terrific writer, currently my favorite rock journalist (yes!). He hasn't convinced me to like Mr. Merritt, tho.

Sean, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

When I think about Merritt's style on disc 3 of 69 Love Songs (again, the only record I know) I can see the talent & I think there is something cool & interesting about saying, "Hey, I'm writing classic pop songs here, so I'm going to use that format and draw from that tradition whilst inserting my own clever inversions." I can even enjoy it as its own thing, but I just can't FEEL it. It reminds me of the distance I feel when Dave Eggers leaves the narrative in his book to comment on the absurdity of writing a book. It's honest, certainly, and skillful, and new, etc. etc. etc., but it doesn't move me. I just never hear a line on that disc and think, "Fuck yeah, I know how that feels." Do you guys? How about some examples? Or maybe you don't look for such a thing in his lyrics.

Mark, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

What I find interesting here -- especially in context of my latest FT ramble -- is that I'm hearing a lot about Mr. Merritt's way with words. Which could in fact explain my disinterest in 69 Love Songs based on what I heard, as it frankly sounded sorta dull. I have no argument on the face of it with polishing one's lyrics to a finely honed point...but if the music is not moving me, then just give me a damn poetry book, please. ;-)

Ned Raggett, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I think one point lacking in this debate is that, regardless of some concept that emotion = ranting, inarticulateness, whatever (which I have a hard time believing most of the people here actually think, making it, while interesting, not much of a debate point), one person's "emotional" is another person's "cold". The nature of emotions, etc. Yours are your own, therefore one person is valid calling the MFs emotional powerhouses and another is equally valid saying they are soulsucking fucks.

For me, the emotion level doesn't enter into it in my dislike of the Fields. I think that Merrit's lyrics are obnoxious and overreaching - I personally don't think his overvaunted wit is much of anything. I find the sound to be unforgivable. And Merrit's vocals are enough to make me shoot someone (and his choices in fellow vocalists are only a step above him). It all really boils down to the sound of it, for me - it sounds like a perfect sonic description of everything I hate about music. I can't describe it any more than that.

Ally, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Nitsuh's right about the currency which the trick of sounding spontaneous has (and has had) in pop. Plainly, the vast majority of pop songs are carefully worked out, rehearsed and recorded. I should add that I think it's a pretty good trick, to make people feel that those mediated feelings are being felt at the moment of performance, and its one which I wish I could find in more artists. (This has something to do with the comments Tom made about actors, I think, but that's for another thread).

But yes, I agree that the concentration on that above all else is a mistake. I'm a Merritt agnostic, though, and I find that, far too often, the songs feel like an intellectual exercise. I find myself jerked out of any engagament with them by a recognition of the technique, which is so foregrounded in 69LS that I, like Mark, can appreciate the thing without ever getting anywhere near to loving it.

I'm generally reluctant to talk about literature, but maybe a parallel's with Georges Perec, whose literary career largely concerned rules and constraints. His 'Life A User's Manual' is may favourite novel ever: it succeeds in engaging me in both form and content where his 'A Void' fails to overcome its constraint (outrageously, omitting the letter e completely) amd ends up an interesting lexical exercise.

"Strange Powers", on the other hand, has strange powers over me.

Tim, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

"may favourite novel ever" = "my favourite novel ever, fairly obviously. (Though pronounce it "may" if you'd like to imagine me saying the phrase like a minor aristocrat...that's the voice I generally use to discuss books).

Tim, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

The other thing is that he views pop as a meta term encompassing a huge variety of genres. He is like weil in that he fails to recognize a difference between theater songs and popular songs. Alot of what he writes fits into that new cabaret that is coming out , or has been coming out in the last 20 years . The hardest thing to work in Kabaret is the gap between artifice and real. Merrit lives in theat gap mining emotional authenticticy and musical pastiche.

anthony, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Wow -- mine too, Tim, with the possible exception of Cosmicomics.

As for Mark's comments, I'd offer the following sort of over- theoretical explanation of what is actually a fairly obvious concept. In aesthetics, I think, there are many instances in which going very far in one direction actually brings you around to its opposite -- my best examples of which are those sprightly, bouncy Cure songs that somehow seem like the logical end-point of gloom and frustration, toeing the inevitable line between "manic" and "depressed." With regard to my comments above, I'd say that Merritt, lyrically, manages to do exactly that w/r/t "emotional connection" and "spontaneity," . . . actually, I have to do something now, so I can't finish this thought. Suffice it to say that a line like "come back from San Francisco / and kiss me, I've quit smoking / I miss doing the wild thing with you" is pretty hard to call stilted or distant or emotionless or something-you-can't-relate to -- this is about as plain and everyday an emotional admission as you could possibly want from a song.

Nitsuh, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I said on some other thread that their songs are whiny annoying dirges that even the Moldy Peaches would be capable of writing. I stand by that, actually Busby Berkely Dreams I think is amazing though aswell. The rest sucks. Greatly.

Ronan, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I agree with some of what has been said in the MFs' defence, but it presumably won't convince people who don't like them. Ally articulated her dislike very well, I think. In a way, I appreciated that particular articulation more than, in the past, I've appreciated a lot of articulations of why people don't like the music.

I regard Merritt almost as Morrissey once used to regard himself - in terms of finality, endings, and tying things up. The MFs mean a great deal to me, partly because of my investment in "the pop song", which (investment) has only been clarified and intensified (not dissipated) by (eventually) hearing them.

From my POV, 69LS is a Very Major Event In Pop History. Holiday, on the other hand, I think is close to his weakest work ever.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

>>> I appreciated that particular articulation more than, in the past, I've appreciated a lot of articulations of why people don't like the music.

=

>>> I appreciated that particular articulation more than, in the past, I've appreciated a lot of articulations of why people *like* the [MFs'] music.

absolutely cuckoo, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

So you paid the cost of a single CD while I paid the cost of 3 CDs. That makes a big difference.

I can't give a technical explanation right now but Gershwin's "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" sounds like a 20s melody to me, "White Rabbit" like a 60s melody, "Bizarre Love Triangle" like an 80s melody. When the Bangles covered "Hazy Shade of Winter," it still sounded like a 60s melody. When Frente did an acoustic version of "BLT" in the 90s it still sounded like an 80s melody. Has to do, I think, with the lengths of the phrases and the intervals chosen.

Lo-fi isn't a problem for me. I don't think 69LS is more lo-fi than my favourite Sonic Youth albums. It's definitely more hi-fi than anything I've done! The guitar line on "Boa Constrictor," which is probably as good as the playing gets on the set, strikes me as competent not exceptional. I definitely think there's more musical substance to the MF when they go electronic. "Ability" was probably a poor choice of terms on my part - "accomplishment" maybe.

I'm assuming that the recent posts defending SM's lyrics are in response to Mark's criticisms and not to mine because my problem wasn't with Merritt trying to be witty and ironic and crafty and distanced. I was in fact looking for witty, well-crafted pop songwriting. I think I just generally find that too often they offer romantic tropes, stock situations, and non-reflexive (is that a real term?) self-pity. Or something like that. I like that the Smiths could create characters with whom you could empathize but also realize their (and your) failings and errors - I like my self-pity with a level of self-consciousness.

I hate the Cure's lyrics for their romantic melodrama.

(Rock ballads that I like I think I usually like despite the lyrics.) "Come back from San Fransisco/And kiss me I've quit smoking" was one of the best moments on the set I thought -- it was too bad it had to be followed by "I miss doing the wild thing with you."

sundar subramanian, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

blah blah blah Busby Berkely Dreams blah blah

.. "My Heart's Runnin' Round Like a Chicken With Its Head Cut Off" - that's the tune I can't shake.

They're great live - but 69LS didn't do much for me. Not that I thought it was drivel - I just never got into it like Holiday or Get Lost.

Dave225, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I can't defend the fields as good as the rest of you can, but one thing I would like to add is the hint of sincerity that comes through the songs. I believe what he is singing. I believe he wants to do the wild thing. Sure lots of it is tongue in cheek, but there are certain moments when an utter sweetness or contrarily utter sadness comes through.

Sonically I enjoy them as well. Summer Lies and Busby Berkly Dreams are beautiful songs, even without words.

Jeff, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I'm not sure his entire oeuvre amounts to as much as Pulp's much more affordable Different Class

But Different Class is, like, a perfect record. To me that's sort of like saying "I'm not sure Common's entire ouevre amounts to as much as Public Enemy's much more affordable It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back."

I generally like the Magnetic Fields. In small doses. Too much and the homogenity of tone gets wearing on me. I'm not sure if I've ever listened to all three volumes of 69 Love Songs straight through. Nitsuh's right about that line on "100,000 Fireflies", it's better and more resonant than anything on 69LS.

Not classic or dud, really.

Ian, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

i bought 69 Love Songs with the full intent of dismantling it into the overrated crap i expected it to be for my own pleasure. It pissed me off to read that he was being praised as the Great Songwriter.

i rather like the Magnetic Fields now. I still only own that one album. I may have listened to the whole album, every song back to back, once. I don't care whther it's sincere or clever. It has some catchy little tunes for me, and i like the fact that it's a jumbled mess, like a big box full of broken toys.

i rather like the Eggers comparison, even though i don't want to get into the cleverness for its own sake mode, as i may have managed to avoid thinking of the Magnetic Fields critically altogether, and been healthier for it in this specific case.

badger, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Pop quiz: why is it bad when MF is "cold and distant" but *good* when Radiohead are alienated? I see 69LS as a great album that again falls into the "emotions I have no use for" category for the most part -- the overall effect being a dissection of love like Pollard sings about -- and then the tension between engagement and betrayal and subsequent retreat. It is music to feel depressed to and yet smile knowingly at yerself while doing so. At least as a whole. Individually, there are scads of great tracks which aren't in the least alienated or depressing, and whose songcraft enhances their sunny qualities. Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side for ex. My point here being that varieties of formalism (cf. endless discussion of formalism months ago here) carry their own social meanings.

Sterling Clover, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I hate the Cure's lyrics for their romantic melodrama.

It might be me, but from what I can tell from a lot of lines being quoted here in Merritt's defense, *they're* pretty melodramatic as well. In which case, what is more important, the song or how it is sung? ;-)

Ned Raggett, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

Ditto on Jeff, which is what I was trying to get at earlier -- the fact that he clearly accepts his place as Songwriter / Text-Producer makes the whole "tongue-in-cheek" issue completely moot. There's absolutely no reason to believe he's kidding.

Nitsuh, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

There's absolutely no reason to believe he's kidding.

But is that enough reason to care? I realize I'm having (self-amused) fun by bringing up these points, but still, I seem to have moved from a point last year where I believed people really did care about the MFs to now, where I'm actually not so sure about that anymore. I don't doubt anyone's sincerity here, I should note, but there's something odd about this debate that seems to be focusing less about Merritt and his work and more about how to read him. And surely the answer to that question is -- however the hell you want to.

Ned Raggett, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

You and your radical subjectivity, Ned. I'll justify it this way: I'm certainly not trying to convince anyone to read Merritt differently, only to point out to those who find him insufferable based on their readings that other readings might allow for a lot more enjoyment.

But what I was about to post was this:

Actually, the more I think about it, part of the thrill of his material is that it essentially dares you to reject his texts, dares you to assume he's kidding -- much of the enjoyment I take from his lyrics lies in the fact that his authorial stance allows him to lay out lines of such straightforward clarity that they seem almost taboo if interpreted as "sincerity." (The taboo, of course, being the long-running post-Elvis "Thou shalt not employ formal rhetorical devices in popular music.") I'm not levelling this charge at anyone here, but I feel as if I've met quite a few people -- Mag Fields fans and haters alike -- whose opinions on Merritt are solely based on their inability to take certain tropes seriously: they either find him wonderfully funny/clever or insufferably funny/clever because it's not occurred to them that his more surprising metaphors may not be intended as humor. But I'm going to resign from this thread and take that thought home to work on it some more, because I feel like there's something to it -- some sort of rebellion-through-structure thing -- that is key to my appreciation of a whole lot of different bits of music.

As a specific response to the standard lyrical criticisms, I'd submit 69 Love Songs' "Meaningless," one of the finest fuck-you songs I've heard in years. But then again, this thread is tending toward a "Lyrical Aspects of 69 Love Songs" classic or dud rather than an actual Mag Fields classic or dud, so . . . let's talk about old stuff.

Nitsuh, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

You and your radical subjectivity, Ned.

*adopts Bugs Bunny voice* Ain't I a STINKER? (As opposed to a Sinker, natch.)

some sort of rebellion-through-structure thing

"Hey hey, you think it's a puncture/Turning rebellion into structure."

*pause*

Er, anyway. A rebellion through structure? *considers* ...I'm leery of such approaches, or rather the way of phrasing that, seems to be the eternal problem of exchanging one ideology for another and back again.

Ned Raggett, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

But you see, Ned, that's why I made the comment above about this theory applying to aesthetics rather than reality. The "ideology" of any particular aesthetic feature -- say, the heaviness of death metal seeming ideologically "transgressive," or the banality of Christian country seeming "wholesome" -- is entirely relative to situation ... we could, after all, theoretically get a point where listening to something that sounded like Cannibal Corpse was the most normal, socially conservative thing a person could possibly do, whereas listening to something that sounded like Christian country was hugely transgressive or avant-garde. (See as evidence the recent transition of country music, among indie hipsters, from butt-of-jokes to source- of-cred -- or, more obviously, the cultural transition of Elvis or the Beatles from controversial deviants to "sure, my grandmother likes him.") That radical subjectivity runs both ways, sucka -- if there's no "correct" reading, only a personal one or a culturally agreed-upon one, then anything can be rebellion.

Nitsuh, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

listening to something that sounded like Cannibal Corpse was the most normal, socially conservative thing a person could possibly do

Among some folks I know, that is precisely the answer. ;-) But that's your point as well, natch. I guess anything could be rebellion, but that implies there's something to rebel *against* -- and with me and my r.s. nature, I'd argue that's chasing at shadows. I wouldn't so much see it as rebelling against something as reacting to it -- the idea of rebelling being a self-contained construct.

Musician to self: "Lo! I respond to the tyranny of presumed unfettered emotion!"

Outside viewpoint: "A tyranny existed?"

Ned Raggett, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

holy! i just have to post quickly, i can't do this thread justice. short answer: classic. if anyone had asked me to think of canonical IL* artists i'd have said kraftwerk 1st closely followed by merrit.

Maybe i'll post something longer tomorrow. i'm lost for words, all you dud-sayers.

Alan at home, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

i'm lost for words, all you dud-sayers.

We're evil that way. Death to consensus! ;-)

Ned Raggett, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

I hate the Cure's lyrics for their romantic melodrama.

It might be me, but from what I can tell from a lot of lines being quoted here in Merritt's defense, *they're* pretty melodramatic as well.

Well, yeah, that was sort of my point. That once you get past the concept and the cleverness it's the same old same old.

sundar subramanian, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (sixteen years ago) Permalink

no, it's not, but shit changes right out from under your nice little song sometimes

j., Sunday, 3 August 2014 19:08 (four years ago) Permalink

Still don't really dig much post Get Lost/Wasps Nest. Like his synth pop formalism better than his broader formalism.

Josh in Chicago, Sunday, 3 August 2014 19:19 (four years ago) Permalink

Wasps Nest is one of my favorite albums but I've never really bothered with much else. I have the Wayward/Distant compilation that I bought after the 6ths but it didn't fall for it like Wasps Nest. Never heard 69 Love Songs. Maybe I should try. Would by a 30 7" box set ;)

brotherlovesdub, Sunday, 3 August 2014 19:23 (four years ago) Permalink

we just need pomplamoose to cover a mag fields song and the circle will be complete

♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Sunday, 3 August 2014 20:27 (four years ago) Permalink

hahaha nm of course that exists already

♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Sunday, 3 August 2014 20:28 (four years ago) Permalink

lol

Erdős Number 9 Dream (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 3 August 2014 20:29 (four years ago) Permalink

On the subject of 'I', whilst I probably prefer '69', 'I' contains my two favourite MF tracks (I Don't Really Love You Anymore, I Thought You Were My Boyfriend).

nxd, Monday, 4 August 2014 10:56 (four years ago) Permalink

Weird to think of "69LS" vs "post-69LS" as the division line here where to me it's clearly "pre-69LS" vs "69LS and after."

Guayaquil (eephus!), Monday, 4 August 2014 11:58 (four years ago) Permalink

Yeah, that's what I said. Or synth-pop vs. Claudia singing a bunch and playing piano.

Josh in Chicago, Monday, 4 August 2014 12:22 (four years ago) Permalink

one month passes...

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/28/fashion/a-night-out-with-stephin-merritt-the-singer-for-magnetic-fields.html?ref=music

Unlike so many performers these days, he doesn’t use Twitter or Instagram. His mom beat him to Facebook. “I can’t deal with the amount of work that would involve,” Mr. Merritt, 49, said. “I’m amazed that everyone else is willing to put in a part-time job worth of work in order to manage their social media accounts. I’m too busy playing Scrabble and Words With Friends.”

That habit has inspired a new book, “101 Two-Letter Words,” a collaboration with Roz Chast on a series of short poems and illustrations celebrating some of the shortest and strangest entries in the Scrabble dictionary.

Sample poem: “Ne is born, if you’re a man;/if you’re a woman, nee./It’s just like what a horse says,/but it’s spelt a different way.”

curmudgeon, Saturday, 27 September 2014 17:47 (four years ago) Permalink

i've found that the magnetic fields are a tough sell for people around my age. their sensibility is too gen x maybe? or maybe they just aren't cool? whatever it is, i can't get people to the point where they grasp the point of the band, which is to rescue the old cliches about love from their own lameness by refusing to hide from it.

Weird. The Magnetic Fields were very popular on my small liberal arts college campus (2008-2012). Mostly 69 Love Songs.

Allen (etaeoe), Saturday, 27 September 2014 22:00 (four years ago) Permalink

yeah a lot of people (myself included) loved that album but had little or no time for anything else he did before or since. it's like it's so sprawling and total, why would you need anything else by him.

goth colouring book (anagram), Saturday, 27 September 2014 22:10 (four years ago) Permalink

because one of his other songs is this one

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvSY4NYkySM

Treeship, Saturday, 27 September 2014 22:14 (four years ago) Permalink

slick over twee, competency over complicated sentiment.

wait, thomp, is this describing the magnetic fields or the tastes of young listeners? because the magnetic fields is totally a twee band exploring complicated sentiments.

Treeship, Saturday, 27 September 2014 22:19 (four years ago) Permalink

Poems I would most like to read from Merritt's book (I assume they're in there): "Qi," "Za," "Xu," "Ut" (any word that allows me to dump a "u" deserves its own poem), "Ba," "Bo," and "Bi." Cs and Vs, get your own book.

clemenza, Saturday, 27 September 2014 22:41 (four years ago) Permalink

from that NY Times piece--

Okay:
He also wears nothing but shades of brown because he thinks that black makes him look like a SoHo tourist and that it’s good when his clothes match his brown eyes.

too bad:

hyperacusis in his left ear, which makes him especially sensitive to loud noise.

curmudgeon, Sunday, 28 September 2014 13:31 (four years ago) Permalink

hyperacusis has been a thing w/ him for years. Didn't know he'd relocated to Hudson, NY tho.

son of a lewd monk (Dr Morbius), Thursday, 2 October 2014 17:05 (four years ago) Permalink

(from LA/NYC)

son of a lewd monk (Dr Morbius), Thursday, 2 October 2014 17:05 (four years ago) Permalink

he used to live a few blocks away from where i'm at (in those weird old apts from 'mulholland drive' iirc.)

LIKE If you are against racism (omar little), Thursday, 2 October 2014 17:21 (four years ago) Permalink

sounds ideal

son of a lewd monk (Dr Morbius), Thursday, 2 October 2014 17:22 (four years ago) Permalink

I always wanted to meet him and then impress him by how cool/knowledgeable i am... so unlike those other fans who he unfairly seems to despise

Treeship, Thursday, 2 October 2014 17:23 (four years ago) Permalink

i wd talk w/him about German films back in the day (silents to Fassbinder), but then Dick's Bar closed.

little or no time for anything else he did before or since. it's like it's so sprawling and total, why would you need anything else by him.

weird logic imho

son of a lewd monk (Dr Morbius), Thursday, 2 October 2014 17:25 (four years ago) Permalink

When I saw them live I was uncomfortable with the way he talked to Claudia, who seemed like a kind person

Treeship, Thursday, 2 October 2014 17:29 (four years ago) Permalink

oh that's (mostly) an act, they've polished it over the years

she is a tot sweetheart, truly

son of a lewd monk (Dr Morbius), Thursday, 2 October 2014 17:30 (four years ago) Permalink

my wife is close friends with one of HIS close friends and all four of us had lunch together once. he's a good dude imo, he just likes to be a bit zingy.

LIKE If you are against racism (omar little), Thursday, 2 October 2014 17:32 (four years ago) Permalink

that docufilm actually captured the Claud-Stephin dynamic pretty incisively i thought.

son of a lewd monk (Dr Morbius), Thursday, 2 October 2014 17:42 (four years ago) Permalink

yeah it did.... i thought it was kind of sad. don't want to project too much but it seemed like she was in love with him.

Treeship, Thursday, 2 October 2014 17:51 (four years ago) Permalink

imposing that fiction of star-crossed lovers, separated by sexual orientation, onto the story of the magnetic fields seemed fitting though. i read it as a possibly intentional thing

Treeship, Thursday, 2 October 2014 17:53 (four years ago) Permalink

i see a mothering thing, somewhat

son of a lewd monk (Dr Morbius), Thursday, 2 October 2014 17:59 (four years ago) Permalink

a friend who knows her calls her "the person without whom the band would never have gotten out of that basement in Cambridge"

son of a lewd monk (Dr Morbius), Thursday, 2 October 2014 18:00 (four years ago) Permalink

little or no time for anything else he did before or since

I can't fathom not having Holiday in my life. It's essential.

Johnny Fever, Thursday, 2 October 2014 20:54 (four years ago) Permalink

one year passes...

best thing i read on facebook today about magnetic fields:

"I think their music is Barenaked Ladies for people with vanity Masters degrees."

scott seward, Tuesday, 5 January 2016 19:45 (two years ago) Permalink

lol

scott seward, Tuesday, 5 January 2016 19:45 (two years ago) Permalink

I'm fan enough to say that poster is probably OTM (and also, LOL).

Bitch I'm in the 2112 (cryptosicko), Tuesday, 5 January 2016 19:46 (two years ago) Permalink

Na. Although, as with xpost Randy Newman, I like the originals, love some of the covers---if this don't show, it's Kelly Hogan (with Mike Ireland) and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts (incl. some Mekons etc.) doing "Papa Was A Rodeo"---always good for blindfold tests:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KeO-LalG7k

dow, Wednesday, 6 January 2016 16:50 (two years ago) Permalink

I can't make a comparison to Barenaked Ladies work. I only know "One Week" and "If I Had a Million Dollars", two incredibly corny, and not in a good way, songs.

radiohead OK computer coca cola co KO (rip van wanko), Wednesday, 6 January 2016 17:24 (two years ago) Permalink

Yeah I mean just because their tweeness is easy to clown it doesn't exactly make them Pomplamoose or something. There is artistic merit.

Evan, Wednesday, 6 January 2016 17:29 (two years ago) Permalink

I can't make a comparison to Barenaked Ladies work. I only know "One Week" and "If I Had a Million Dollars", two incredibly corny, and not in a good way, songs.

you need to listen to more bnl, friend

Cuombas (jim in glasgow), Wednesday, 6 January 2016 17:31 (two years ago) Permalink

perhaps you have been in Canada too long

radiohead OK computer coca cola co KO (rip van wanko), Wednesday, 6 January 2016 17:32 (two years ago) Permalink

i think it's more of a quirky/nerdy thing. barenaked ladies could totally make this a new anthem:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDmw8bZWFhk

scott seward, Wednesday, 6 January 2016 18:01 (two years ago) Permalink

likewise, magnetic fields could make this into a suitable dirge:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ggJS0p-QQc

scott seward, Wednesday, 6 January 2016 18:03 (two years ago) Permalink

best thing i read on facebook today about magnetic fields:

"I think their music is Barenaked Ladies for people with vanity Masters degrees."

oh my fucking god yes

HYPERLINK TO RAP GENIUS (BradNelson), Wednesday, 6 January 2016 18:13 (two years ago) Permalink

i've always hated merritt and like a few bnl singles lol

HYPERLINK TO RAP GENIUS (BradNelson), Wednesday, 6 January 2016 18:14 (two years ago) Permalink

"what a good boy" is a pretty good song about gender roles and dysphoria from 1992

HYPERLINK TO RAP GENIUS (BradNelson), Wednesday, 6 January 2016 18:16 (two years ago) Permalink

oh I can just hear it

rip van wanko, Wednesday, 6 January 2016 18:26 (two years ago) Permalink

ten months pass...
two weeks pass...

anyone see the Brooklyn shows?

Supercreditor (Dr Morbius), Monday, 5 December 2016 19:17 (one year ago) Permalink

one year passes...

A number of things have always put me off this obviously great music-- my own (justified) projection of ego-centricity on to Merritt, the obsessiveness of his tru fans, a couple of lousy shows, etc. But nothing put me off more than the fact that, late 90s and early 00s, his albums were full-price and yet felt and sounded cheap... there was this feeling of parsimony to the transaction of buying-and-consuming his music, like I was being grifted.

But these days I've been streaming it on Tidal and I kind of can't believe the breadth and scope of it all, all the subtle details that went into every track. And the feeling of being scammed has dissipated... it feels positively generous, for some reason. I can't think of many other artists whose work I can say I enjoy more in the streaming context than this band

fgti is for (flamboyant goon tie included), Sunday, 7 October 2018 14:24 (one week ago) Permalink

That's really interesting. I've never considered the value proposition of music that way. Though there was a time when I tried to love albums more based on how much I paid (import albums costing $20 got my plays than used bin items).

For some artists, the original context of creation and release has added immensely to my appreciation and enjoyment, whereas with other removing that context is better. Magnetic Fields land in the latter for you.

Gerald McBoing-Boing, Sunday, 7 October 2018 15:50 (one week ago) Permalink

Oh, for sure. I paid $30 for a bootleg Neu! CD when I was 19 and it felt like it was worth it. And I always enjoyed Magnetic Fields, there's just something about the thesis of it, compositionally and lyrically, that didn't mesh well with "paying $18-$20 for a 33 minute CD" (as I did for The Charm Of The Highway Strip). Or the inglorious expense of the 3CD 69 Love Songs boxset... which, iirc, at the time seemed like the music object that "only my more wealthy friends could afford". (Maybe this feeling was, at the time, coloured by the fact that I was buying up classic-after-classic Bowie albums at $10 a pop).

There was a discussion upthread about the thesis of this band (and Merritt's other projects) and it does seem to imply less of a "you are listening to an essential album when you listen to a Magnetic Fields album" experience and more of a sly-wink takes-the-entire-oeuvre-to-understand-it subversion of what albums are, what songs are, what lyrics are, when instrumentation is, and what emotions themselves are and how we describe them. OK I'm getting pretty babbly just gonna stop typing and hit it

fgti is for (flamboyant goon tie included), Sunday, 7 October 2018 17:57 (one week ago) Permalink


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