69 Love Songs album cover

The Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs

Merge, 1999, pop

B, 1966: The downside of falling behind ‘C’ & ‘H’ here is that I can either simply write “what they said” or try to be at least equally clever and insightful. Hey c’mon, I was ahead, then went on a crazy business trip to Europe and only then fell behind! Now, jetlagged, head cold, and facing a deadline I am listening to this smart, clever, sweet, and seditious record. It is like a romantic redux of Jazz Butcher* with a splash of Tom Waits for the bitters, and add garnish of ABBA speared with a toothpick of Flight of the Concords for a bit of flare. Definitely an exercise to listen to the whole album in one go, and maybe the joke gets a bit tired after a few dozen sarcastic, sardonic love songs, but I think that is kinda the point. And BTW, I think ‘H’s’ scenario #2 below is totally plausible, though #3 is perhaps more likely. Tracks that stand out to me are: “All My Little Words” and “I Need A New Heart” and “Papa Was A Rodeo”. OK, so it is highly unlikely Jazz Butcher made this RS500, but they deserve to be heard! “Devil is My Friend” is a classic of sarcastic popular music.

C, 2002: This album is honestly really good. Wasn’t a huge fan of the guy’s voice at times and I didn’t look forward to another super long album but I loved it. There’s a lot of great songs on here: “The Luckiest Guy on the lower east side” “The One You Really Love” and “Nothing Matters when we’re dancing” take the cake for me.

H, 1951: All of these songs are short and interesting, and there’s enough variety here to prevent monotony, and the entire collection is definitely a singular achievement. The overall experience of listening to the whole thing kept making me want to imagine a backstory to the collection. Something like:

  1. It’s a comically overblown response to an agent’s question “Yes, but can you write a love song?”

  2. It’s a soundtrack to a movie about a songwriter secretly employed by a tech entrepreneur whose latest startup is having problems living up to its promise that it can use AI to generate an infinite variety of perfectly listenable love songs.

  3. It’s a project designed to convince listeners that all love songs, and perhaps all popular romantic notions of love, are entirely ridiculous, and to ensure that said listeners will never be able to thoughtlessly lose themselves in another silly love song without suddenly breaking out in a cold sweat, worried that the insipid sounds they’re hearing might actually be concealing a line as disquieting as: “my heart’s running around like a chicken with its head cut off.”

But whether any of these are true, or none of them, ultimately it feels like the joke wears a little thin before reaching the end of the endeavor. The whole thing is an impressive feat, but the lack of emotional authenticity either invested by the music’s creators, or solicited from the music’s listeners, finally ends up making the whole thing feel a bit sterile.

Undeniably clever, though. My favorite track is “Love is Like Jazz.”

Published 05 Oct 2019