The Magnetic Fields
50 Song Memoir
If 50 Song Memoir is proof of anything, it’s that Stephen Merritt is at his best when facing a monumental challenge. In 1999, he released 69 Love Songs, a box set that was just that – 69 songs about love, each told with Merritt’s signature bittersweet, often humorous lyrics. Since that seminal release, Magnetic Fields have stagnated a bit with a handful of meandering, mixed-bag albums. But in 2017, the songwriter has returned to his muse with another gargantuan challenge: to write 50 songs about his 50 years on this planet. Not only does he meet the quota, but the massive task helped him to shake the cobwebs off of his muse and write some of his best material in over 20 years.
Some may find the idea of a five-CD, 50 song album to be a bit too tedious, but Merrit masterfully tells his story in a way that is endlessly entertaining and continuously mysterious. This isn’t a straight-forward memoir (we never learn the names of his parents, if he has siblings, or the names of his lovers); instead, each song plays as a snapshot – sometimes a hilarious story (a mean cat, failing an ethics class in college, a song about how surfing is a dumb sport) and sometimes a heartbreaking revelation (the impact his mother’s boyfriends would have on him over the years, fears of the AIDs epidemic, mental illness). Merrit is at his finest though when the songs are a combination of both his signature snark and sadness.