What does it sound like?:
The obvious point of comparison for 50 Song Memoir is The Magentic Fields’ previous multi-song masterwork, 69 Love Songs. And, Indeed, fans of that popular work will not be disappointed here. There is the same eclectic mix of styles, hummable tunes and droll turns of phrase. There’s a lot to like. The standard of songwriting is pretty high – they were compiled over a long period of time, which probably helped. The hit rate is higher than 69 Love Songs, I’d say even if there’s nothing that quite hits the highs of that album (though, ahem, give me time – this is growing on me with each listen). The difference is that Stephin Merritt, Magnetic Fields songwriter etc., has composed avowedly autobiographical songs (for the first time, allegedly) – one for each year of his life up to age 50, covering the years 1966 to 2015.
What does it all *mean*?
We get a potted history of Mr Merritt’s life through the medium of song. Luckily, it has been quite an interesting one. His bohemian mother gets a few appearances. Memorably, Merritt – aged 5 – is taken to see the Jefferson Airplane and takes Grace Slick’s angry “They’re killing children over there!” to refer to another part of the concert hall, rather than Vietnam. This is done in a sort of Airplane-esque stylee. Likewise ‘How to play the synthesiser’ – essentially a set of instructions on how to … ah, I see you’re ahead of me – is a brilliant slice of electropop and ‘Surfin’ – a paean to the pointlessness of said activity – is one of the best surf songs I’ve heard.
Goes well with…
Might suit people who like…
Great tunes and deadpan witty lyrics, delivered in Merritt’s fantastic voice. If you like 69 Love Songs, you will love this too. Also, if the idea of rhyming “cutely coquettish” with “no, no, Nanetteish” doesn’t appeal, then possibly best to avoid.
I should say that the package itself is a nice one. the Cd box has 5 discs – one for each decade. Only about 30 minutes each, so it could have been squeezed onto two – but where’s the fun in that? there’s also a sturdy book with a song-by-song interview of Stephin Merritt by Daniel Handler, AKA Lemony Snickett, who also plays on the album (and 69 Love Songs, I was delighted to discover).
Top tip: buy the vinyl. I didn’t and I regret it.