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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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

anthonyeaston, Monday, 29 October 2001 01:00 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

...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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

I loved their Get Lost album.

Kodanshi, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

"...subject matter AND the listener"

Mark, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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

gareth, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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

Nick, Tuesday, 30 October 2001 01:00 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

"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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

>>> 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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

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 (nineteen years ago) link

Some very provocative titles here, though

Paul Ponzi, Wednesday, 26 February 2020 00:41 (one year ago) link

Fido, your songs are too short.

worked for Bob Pollard

brooklyn suicide cult (Dr Morbius), Wednesday, 26 February 2020 01:03 (one year ago) link

one month passes...

I want to join a biker gang
I want to be in a gang bang
I like my empty life but dang
I want to join a biker gang

... (Eazy), Saturday, 18 April 2020 03:49 (one year ago) link

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0eYO2cg9jA

... (Eazy), Saturday, 18 April 2020 14:34 (one year ago) link

seven months pass...

LD Beghtol has passed:

Rest In Peace, LD Beghtol. I’m sorry we never finished our collaboration. pic.twitter.com/6zLbkAi6ZK

— 50PoundNote (Jeb) (@50_pound_note) December 8, 2020

Ned Raggett, Tuesday, 8 December 2020 04:13 (nine months ago) link

Oh no :(

wet tip hen ax (egg drop mix) (morrisp), Tuesday, 8 December 2020 04:18 (nine months ago) link

Is there any other info (or context/confirmation) beyond this single tweet? I can't find anything.

wet tip hen ax (egg drop mix) (morrisp), Tuesday, 8 December 2020 04:25 (nine months ago) link

I know Jeb and trust him as the source -- LD was apparently found in his apartment but there's no other details. Apparently he did catch COVID in summer, hopefully this wasn't something related to that.

Ned Raggett, Tuesday, 8 December 2020 04:30 (nine months ago) link

(That further info from Jeb directly.)

Ned Raggett, Tuesday, 8 December 2020 04:30 (nine months ago) link

Thanks... how sad

wet tip hen ax (egg drop mix) (morrisp), Tuesday, 8 December 2020 04:33 (nine months ago) link

I will forever cherish "All My Little Words." Just too sad.

TO BE A JAZZ SINGER YOU HAVE TO BE ABLE TO SCAT (Jazzbo), Tuesday, 8 December 2020 20:21 (nine months ago) link

Ah crap. One of my favorite gigs of all-time was the two-day complete "69 Love Songs". It was such an incredibly joyful experience, Claudia was radiating happiness and fun.

Any of LD's other vocal work recommended?

Gerald McBoing-Boing, Tuesday, 8 December 2020 21:24 (nine months ago) link

You could check out Flare if you like 'twee chamber pop' of any description
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPLBPOIP1xI

Lamont Dozier Dream House (Deflatormouse), Wednesday, 9 December 2020 02:41 (nine months ago) link

His 33⅓ on 69 is good.

huge rant (sic), Wednesday, 9 December 2020 04:13 (nine months ago) link

listened to "all my little words" for the first time in forever when i saw this news. i think there's still no one i would trust more to do a perfect 2 and a half minutes.

call all destroyer, Wednesday, 9 December 2020 04:25 (nine months ago) link

really sad about this, it's hard to process. his voice & presence on those songs (thinking of "My Sentimental Melody" too) meant so much, more than I ever consciously realized.

swing out sister: live in new donk city (geoffreyess), Wednesday, 9 December 2020 04:55 (nine months ago) link

"All My Little Words" is so simple but so perfect. RIP

it bangs for thee (Simon H.), Wednesday, 9 December 2020 05:10 (nine months ago) link

eight months pass...

I've at last fully listened to the CD of QUICKIES (2020).

An observation: every one of the 28 songs is a comedy song. We expect irony and drollery from Merritt. But amid the jokes I might also have expected a 30-second flash of plaintive pathos, or 48 seconds of surprisingly raw emotion set to a toy piano. He doesn't deliver that here. It's all black comedy.

I still rather like the way that he uses old-school syntactical precision, in a way unlike anyone else in pop - so that the words in a pop song have the grammar of, say, an article in a 1950s literary journal (if not something much older like Hazlitt or Hawthorne). Indeed I sense that this is something that's developed over Merritt's career - you really don't hear it so much in the 1990s work; it's really only noticeable more recently.

the pinefox, Saturday, 14 August 2021 10:49 (one month ago) link

That's kind of how I described this album to a friend a few weeks ago. Every song is a little joke, but none of them are particularly funny. And maaaaybe you get a little of that old Merritt pathos in "She Says Hello," but that's the only thing close to a keeper here for me.

Vaguely Threatening CAPTCHAs, Monday, 16 August 2021 18:08 (one month ago) link

Every song is a little joke, but none of them are particularly funny.

I feel like his stuff always had this quality tbh

Dexter Holland's Opus (Deflatormouse), Monday, 16 August 2021 19:59 (one month ago) link

I mean I think he's brilliant but there's always been this sense that they think their jokes are a lot funnier than they actually are, that's not a recent development.

Dexter Holland's Opus (Deflatormouse), Monday, 16 August 2021 20:02 (one month ago) link

I think it's a gradual mutation that's gotten them to this point, where the songs are all joke, no ache. They were most of the way there with Love at the Bottom of the Sea, and then Bob Hurwitz from Nonesuch pitched Merritt the 50 Song Memoir concept, which helped stall the transformation (I always imagine this was Hurwitz's intention), but now here we are with Quickies.

Vaguely Threatening CAPTCHAs, Monday, 16 August 2021 21:44 (one month ago) link

"It's Only Time" came up on my Spotify a recently, and I played it over and over. It feels, like almost every MF song does, like a genre exercise, ironic and detached, but damn if it doesn't succeed magnificently as a straight ahead love song

cerebral halsey (rip van wanko), Tuesday, 17 August 2021 00:28 (one month ago) link

I totally get that, it's such a beautiful song

erasingclouds, Tuesday, 17 August 2021 03:44 (one month ago) link

I didn't know that 50 SONG MEMOIR was someone else's idea. I don't agree that it 'stalled Merritt's transformation' by being more sincere (if that's what's suggested). I'm afraid I think it's practically his worst LP, especially taken pound for pound, proportionately, or whatever - I mean it's about 20% good.

I think TMF *stage banter* has always been much less funny than they think - and people laugh along with it and think it's delightful that they're saying these actually quite dull things. That's been the case for decades. But I don't think that's true of the songs.

LOVE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, yes, it's true that that had unfunny jokes - 'I'd go anywhere with Hugh', 'I'm going back to the country' - that don't compare with anything on 69LS. (Though the LP is still not all bad.)

Again I think the odd thing is just that Merritt hasn't kept a bit of the 'ache' element along with the comedy - as we all know how well he can do it. I should play 'She Says Hello' again.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 17 August 2021 06:59 (one month ago) link

Not suggesting 50SM is more sincere, necessarily, just that it's not primarily comedy songs. I thought it was probably his worst LP after the first time I listened to it, but it's really grown on me since then. It's almost hard to think of it as a Magnetic Fields album, though -- I like it as a musical about a weird music geek written by a weird music geek and performed in the style of the Magnetic Fields. Another way you could look at it is that even if it's only 20% good, that's still 10 good songs, which isn't bad for a latter-day Merritt record. :)

And yeah, Love at the Bottom of the Sea wasn't all bad! Also helped that it sounded really good to my ears, especially coming off of the "no synths" trilogy.

Vaguely Threatening CAPTCHAs, Tuesday, 17 August 2021 16:13 (one month ago) link

Another way you could look at it is that even if it's only 20% good, that's still 10 good songs, which isn't bad for a latter-day Merritt record. :)

That's a good statement.

And it's notable that so many of us (?) seem to have the same feeling of a decline in quality.

Having said this: does it even contain 10 good songs? That would be a list worth making.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 17 August 2021 16:47 (one month ago) link

Some of the titles are not even summoning tunes for me now. And this after playing it a lot in the past.

These songs, I think are at least OK:

Rock'n'Roll Will Ruin Your Life
Foxx and I
How I Failed Ethics
Ethan Frome
Dreaming in Tetris
Lovers' Lies
Fathers in the Clouds
Ghosts of the Marathon Dancers
Have You Seen It in the Snow?
The Ex and I
Never Again
Quotes
You Can Never Go Back to New York
I Wish I Had Pictures

That's 14! And there might even be one or two more ... but still I don't think I'm setting a very high bar here.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 17 August 2021 16:52 (one month ago) link

Many of those would make my list of favorites (with Foxx and I at the very top). I'd have to include Hustle 76 (I was in Magnetic Fields cover band when 50SM came out and this is the only song from the album we worked on for possible inclusion in our set, but ultimately we dropped it), Life Ain't All Bad, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea too. I hear that last one as a bit of tribute to Scott Miller, who'd recently passed -- Merritt's said he tried to write a lot of fake Scott Miller songs in his pre-Magnetic Fields days, and it seems like he took the San Francisco setting of this song as a cue to give that another shot.

Vaguely Threatening CAPTCHAs, Wednesday, 18 August 2021 14:10 (one month ago) link

I always thought Sweet-Lovin' Man was a Donnette-Thayer-sings-Scott-Miller pastiche.

Halfway there but for you, Wednesday, 18 August 2021 14:36 (one month ago) link

Magnetic Fields cover band!

I'd go and see that!

the pinefox, Wednesday, 18 August 2021 17:27 (one month ago) link

My iTunes today randomly played 'they're killing children over there'. I thought: this is actually good, in various ways, and the melody stayed with me for hours.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 18 August 2021 17:28 (one month ago) link

I think I'm going to delve back properly into this LP, maybe playing it all at random for days. I'll try to form a better view on the songs that CAPTCHAS mentions, which I don't now remember at all.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 18 August 2021 17:29 (one month ago) link

Cool! Yeah, I think driving around listening to it on random like I used to do with 69LS helped me appreciate it more.

I always thought Sweet-Lovin' Man was a Donnette-Thayer-sings-Scott-Miller pastiche.

That hadn't occurred to me but now that you mention it I can definitely hear a connection between it and "Wyoming."

Vaguely Threatening CAPTCHAs, Wednesday, 18 August 2021 20:19 (one month ago) link

I have always been able to appreciate 69LS consecutively, on CD. I don't even really associate it with random play.

Whereas - 50SM seems basically lower quality or less enjoyable overall, and maybe would benefit from elements of random surprise.

Today I just played the first few songs. I was surprised how good the opener 'wonder where I'm from' is. 'Killing children' as noted, has something, and btw the intro strikes me as a joke on 'Seven Nation Army'. The highlight I think must be 'Judy Garland' - the closest thing to a major song here? With the great line 'Let's try: None of the above'.

Then again ...

"'67 Come Back as a Cockroach", "'68 A Cat Called Dionysus" and worst of all, "'72 Eye Contact" - it's hard to justify even playing these tracks.

the pinefox, Thursday, 19 August 2021 11:09 (four weeks ago) link

two weeks pass...

Reports that Susan Amway has passed away - heartbreaking.

Shocked and saddened to hear of the passing of Susan Anway, vocalist with the Magnetic Fields, among others. My heart always breaks hearing this song; now for new reasons.https://t.co/YHIWPd2Xh8

— Daniel Handler (@DanielHandler) September 8, 2021

etc, Wednesday, 8 September 2021 21:33 (one week ago) link

Oh man, the version of “Take Ecstasy with Me” with her on vocals blew me away as a teenager, might still be my favorite track they ever did. That’s so sad.

JoeStork, Wednesday, 8 September 2021 21:48 (one week ago) link

This is horrible. 100,000 Fireflies is my favorite song.

treeship., Wednesday, 8 September 2021 22:13 (one week ago) link

Oh no...
A quick web search turns this up: https://www.echovita.com/us/obituaries/fl/north-fort-myers/mary-susan-anway-13296211
She was 70. I remember some interview with Stephin where he did mention that Susan was a bit older than the rest of them (I didn't realize it was that much.)
If there was ever a life-changing song for me, "100,000 Fireflies" was it, in 1993 via the "...One Last Kiss" compilation.
Years later I was at a Pauline Oliveros workshop, and she told everyone there to think of your very favorite song that you know by heart and everyone would each sing their own favorite simultaneously, one syllable at a time, using one long breath for each syllable; at that moment, I decided that "Smoke Signals" was my favorite song. Now, "Dancing in My Eyes" gets me every time, especially Susan's delivery of the rising melody of the line "We will dance in the autumn with the leaves in our hair."
I remember another interview with Stephin where he said he liked the way that Susan could sound happy, sad, or blank. Then Stephin mentioned that he could only sound sad. Then he mentioned that he wanted to be able to sound blank.
Ok, going to listen to those first two albums now...

ernestp, Thursday, 9 September 2021 02:58 (one week ago) link

She also sang in the group V; (that's a "V" followed by a semicolon).
"1926" is absolutely stunning:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPE2CLBvjiI
"Your god hates me / He can't feel my flesh / He leaves me panting like a dog at the edge of your bed"

ernestp, Thursday, 9 September 2021 03:03 (one week ago) link

Oh wow. Some days Distant Plastic Trees is my favourite thing ever but I never really learned anything about the vocalist before today. So sad. It's obviously time to play my old twofer CD. Much of it makes me misty-eyed at the best of times...

Nag! Nag! Nag!, Thursday, 9 September 2021 07:50 (one week ago) link

Sad, second major Magnetic Fields contributor in two years ... RIP.

Josh in Chicago, Thursday, 9 September 2021 12:17 (one week ago) link

The first two LPs, with her, are indeed special and magnificent - among the greatest pop achievements of their era, or, I'm inclined to say, any era.

She did something, on those records, that no-one else has ever done, and perhaps no-one else ever could do.

the pinefox, Thursday, 9 September 2021 13:18 (one week ago) link

Yup, there really is something about them that feels magical, and a lot of it is down to her vocals.

She also sang in the group V; (that's a "V" followed by a semicolon).
"1926" is absolutely stunning:

OK this is blowing my mind. I'm well acquainted with Thalia Zedek's version of "1926," but had no idea it was a cover, let alone a cover of song originally sung by Susan Anway. Thanks for sharing this!

If anyone hasn't heard the original "Crowd of Drifters" with Anway on vocals, which was, I believe, the first officially released Magnetic Fields song (on a compilation from 1990 that was apparently reissued last year: https://emergencyhearts.bandcamp.com/album/doctor-deaths-vol-iv-the-marvels-of-insect-life), it is a thing of beauty:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLu5Taq12qM

Vaguely Threatening CAPTCHAs, Thursday, 9 September 2021 15:40 (one week ago) link

on a compilation from 1990 that was apparently reissued last year: https://emergencyhearts.bandcamp.com/album/doctor-deaths-vol-iv-the-marvels-of-insect-life),

I really love this particular segment of 90s indie linguistic style where on a comp like this it's impossible to tell which is the band name and which is the song title unless you're already familiar with the band

Guayaquil (eephus!), Thursday, 9 September 2021 15:43 (one week ago) link

Thanks for the 1926 link, Ernest.

bobo honkin' slobo babe (sic), Thursday, 9 September 2021 16:03 (one week ago) link

I know quite a lot of TMF obscurities - but I still don't think I had heard Anway sing 'crowd of drifters'.

There's something about the very early years of this band that's to me deeply intriguing - and deeply rooted in a US indie scene that they would later, perhaps, try to disavow or at least leave behind.

the pinefox, Friday, 10 September 2021 09:57 (one week ago) link

There's something about the very early years of this band that's to me deeply intriguing - and deeply rooted in a US indie scene that they would later, perhaps, try to disavow or at least leave behind.

― the pinefox, Friday, September 10, 2021 9:57 AM

Quite regional scenes as well - I'd also not heard V; before, or taken followed other Boston indie breadrcrumbs to the original "Babies Falling":

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-e4fEfWi7A

Still embarrassed at butchering Susan's surname above. Does anyone know why her version of "Plant White Roses" was left off all the Distant Plastic Trees reissues over the years?

etc, Saturday, 11 September 2021 03:50 (one week ago) link

Fondly remember the time she replied to a RYM thread that was asking for any information about where she had disappeared after 1992
Apparently she had become a blacksmith
I've never been able to say which of the first two albums I prefer but they're also my favorites

Nabozo, Saturday, 11 September 2021 06:23 (one week ago) link

An original 'Babies Falling'! Incredible!

Yes, this kind of thing shows so much about where the extraordinary Merritt vision came from; how it was actually more rooted than it seems.

In theory perhaps 50 SONG MEMOIR is about that, but its songs are too often not interesting enough to convey it.

the pinefox, Saturday, 11 September 2021 10:10 (one week ago) link


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