Essential Albums: The Magnetic Fields- 69 Love Songs


Quick Band Bio: The Magnetic Fields are a Boston band that formed in 1988 and released their first album Distant Plastic Trees in 1991. They became known for their use of unusual instrumentation in pop songs, frequent inclusion of synthesizers, and Stephen Merritt’s songwriting style (short and clever). 69 Love Songs was the sixth album released by the group, and the one that served as their breakthrough as the triple album excels despite asking it’s audience to give them your patience for the nearly three hours of music. A three hour concept album sounds a bit scary, but this concept doesn’t end up limiting the band nearly as much as you’d expect given the title, in fact Merritt clarified upon the release that 69 Love Songs is not remotely an album about love. It’s an album about love songs, which are very far away from anything to do with love”.

And so while love is present on every track, it’s role constantly changes so that you’re not just being sung to about the experience of being in love. Sometimes it’s about how love has left a relationship, like on “You’re My Only Home” where the relationship is all but over yet he still feels like her puppet, or “All My Little Words” where the narrator is in love with the girl for the exact reasons that she can’t be with him (“You are a splendid butterfly/It is your wings that make you beautiful/And I could make you fly away/But I could never make you stay”). That song tells the sad story of a man who has the power to make his love feel miserable with basically no effort, while knowing there’s no amount of effort he could give to make her stay. A tragic perspective of love gets showcased in many of the tracks: whether it’s the inability to be a suitable partner presented in “Absolutely Cuckoo” or “A Chicken With It’s Head Cut Off”, or “I Don’t Believe in the Sun” which argues that the sun [love] can’t exist because “how could it shine down on everyone and never shine on me”. A lot of the 69 Love Songs make this sad turn in their narrative to show the negative aspects of love for a character, but once again it’s not a constant as there are songs such as “Washington D.C.” where the narrator sings about her love for the nation’s capital because “that’s where [her] baby lives that’s all”.
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69 Love Songs is a great album because it keeps surprising you in how it can present these love songs from so many different perspectives and musical styles, and because the simplistic approach that many of the tracks take to capture a mindset creates this notion of frequent movement between tracks as the album progresses. A final track reference to sum up the album is in “The Death of Ferdinand de Saussure”, a reference to a famous linguist and a track containing the chorus “We don’t know anything/You don’t know anything/I don’t know anything/About love. And we are nothing/You are nothing/I am nothing/Without love”. Our universal view of love is semi-understood by most, but it’s still something you can’t define or identify, and this is why you can write about it 69 different ways and have each label it differently but stay honest.

Track Picks: Absolutely Cuckoo, Asleep and Dreaming, The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side, I Think I Need a New Heart, I Don’t Want To Get Over You

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