Not that there’s many people reading this thing, but I knew that, as far as small blogs go, putting ‘OK Computer’ at number 2 in this list was going to raise some eyebrows. Maybe I’m trying to be controversial subconsciously but whatever the reason, this is the number one in my countdown:
The Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs
If anything I’d probably say that it’s evenly matched with ‘OK Computer’, but it’s the fact that ’69 Love Songs’ spreads itself over three discs and still holds up brilliantly gives it an extra point. Stephin Merritt is one of the finest and most influential songwriters working today and this is effectively his CV; a encyclopaedic A to Z of the concept of the love song. Genres are toyed with and then tossed aside quickly in time for the next one to arrive; he clearly loves Tom Waits, the Pet Shop Boys, Abba, Cole Porter, The Jesus and Mary Chain and strange experimentalist-cum-inventor Laurie Anderson, amongst many others which are far less distinguishable. Pianos, ukuleles, accordions (played by novelist Lemony Snicket), guitars, synths and strings are all treated like they’re the same thing. What sets the songs on ’69’ apart from the other love songs floating around the world is that they are not love songs, but songs about love songs. It’s a text-book examination that deconstructs the very essence and make up of pretty much every ballad and amorous ditty there is, most of them delivered with irony in tow, often making fun of the very thing they’re representing, but the melodies themselves are so brilliant that they can break your heart on their own. Several singers crop up on the album, both male and female, as if Merritt was trying to exhibit as many perspectives as possible, subverting every cliché and bending every gender. As a lyricist, Merritt is second to very few and can deliver lines that make you giggle one minute and snap your heart in two the next. They’re smart, deeply emotional or silly when they want to be and, most importantly, extremely singable. ‘Asleep and Dreaming’ is about as honest and touching as love songs get; ‘Yeah! Oh Yeah!’ drolly portrays a miserable married couple over four ringing guitar chords; ‘I Don’t Want To Get Over You’ is a banjo-tinged rumbling “how to” on being a heartbroken misanthrope while ‘Kiss Me Like You Mean It’ mocks religion in a countrified uke ballad. These are just four examples but frankly I could talk all day about how much I love this record. Despite being a triple album (the longest in this countdown) it’s still the kind you listen to over and over again, learn all the words and bellow or grumble them out like no one’s listening.