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The Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt is too prolific to lay low

Wednesday, Apr 9 2003
What do you do after writing and recording 69 love songs, getting praised as the second coming of Cole Porter by the New York Times, and ending up on a gazillion Best Records of the Year lists? If you're the Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt, you run and hide -- sort of.

The New York City singer/songwriter is too prolific to lay low altogether. A year after releasing 1999's three-CD 69 Love Songs, Merritt put out Hyacinths and Thistles under the auspices of the 6ths -- essentially him penning tunes for his favorite singers (everyone from Gary Numan to Odetta to the Mekons' Sally Timms). Last year he collaborated with multi-instrumentalist Chris Ewen and the Fields' Claudia Gonson on the second Future Bible Heroes full-length, Eternal Youth. That effort -- for which Merritt matched lyrics to Ewen's music while Gonson handled the vocals -- adhered to the electro-pop side of the Magnetic Fields, with lots of synthesizer beeps and blurps driving the tunes. Over the course of a whole album, however, the lack of variety weighed things down, and we began to miss Merritt's ocean-deep baritone and ironic manner, as well as his typical wide palette of musical styles.

Even so, there's no doubting Merritt's lyrical genius, the way he skillfully mines romantic situations for mirth and insight. On Eternal Youth, his words take on a darker, more sci-fi vibe than usual, as he imagines himself a nocturnal bloodsucker ("I'm a Vampire"), lusts after a nonhuman ("From Some Dying Star"), and gets lost in space ("Doris Daytheearthstoodstill"). Best of all is "Losing Your Affection," in which Merritt lists the depths to which he'd go for love: "I would rather be the frog speaking Tagalog/ As they start the vivisection/ I would rather be the dog food in front of the dog/ Than be losing your affection."

For their first-ever West Coast tour, the Heroes will flesh out their songs with ukulele, piano, and guitar, adding a bit of humanity to their otherworldly sheen. And maybe, if people ask politely enough, Merritt will unveil some numbers from his forthcoming Magnetic Fields album (rumored to be complete, save for the song selection).

About The Author

Dan Strachota


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