Magnetic Fields

69 Love Songs, Pt. 3

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As the sprawling magnitude of its cheeky title suggests, 69 Love Songs is Stephin Merritt's most ambitious as well as most fully realized work to date, a three-disc epic of classically chiseled pop songs that explore both the promise and pitfalls of modern romance through the jaundiced eye of an irredeemable misanthrope. A true A-to-Z catalog of touchingly bittersweet love songs that runs the gamut from tender ballads to pithy folk tunes to bluesy vamps, the sheer scope of the record allows all of Merritt's musical personas to converge -- the regular use of guest vocalists recalls his work as the 6ths, the romantic fatalism suggests the Gothic Archies project, and the stately melodies evoke the Future Bible Heroes. The whole is much greater than the sum of its parts, however -- for all of Merritt's scathing wit and icy detachment, there's a depth and sensitivity to these songs largely absent from his past work, and each one of these 69 tracks approaches l'amour from refreshing angles, galvanizing the love song form with rare sophistication and elegance. The third disc is even more eclectic than its predecessors, embracing everything from lush pop ballads (the sumptuous "Busby Berkeley Dreams") to winsome folk songs ("Acoustic Guitar") to Reich-ian tape constructions ("Experimental Music Love"). Still, even though each of 69 Love Songs' three discs is available separately, it was nevertheless conceived as a whole and is best absorbed as such, with all of its twists and turns taken in stride; despite its three-hour length the music boasts the craftsmanship and economy that remain the hallmarks of classic American pop songwriting, a tradition Merritt upholds even as he subverts the formula in new and brilliant ways.

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