February 12, 2004

Test Spin: Stephin Merritt

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A soundtrack is more interesting when one person has complete control of it. Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields, who released the 1999 box set 69 Love Songs, which had all the critics a-jittery, wrote every song on this album, the accompaniment to a film in which Katie Holmes stars as a melodramatic teenager (imagine that). Four of these are new Magnetic Fields songs (none of which actually appeared in the film, but at least they’re mostly good), one of which is a solo called “One April Day” that was written specifically for the film, and the other five songs were previously released, either by the Magnetic Fields or Merritt’s other band, The 6ths. Unfortunately, the songs by The 6ths are pretty weak, but there’s still enough gold on here to warrant praise.

The Fields’ songs hint at the stylistic diversity achieved on 69 Love Songs. “Epitaph for My Heart” begins with the irony of a They Might Be Giants song and then segues into a quasi-Joy Division pop dirge (Merritt’s voice even sounds like that of Ian Curtis here). Meanwhile, “The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side” is bouncy and quirky, with lyrics about cars and low self-esteem that clicks in an empathy-for-losers sort of way.

This soundtrack’s Achilles heel is its length: only 27 minutes. The songs are a good intro to the Magnetic Fields, but don’t waste your money on such a short album. Just buy 69 Love Songs instead.

Archived article by John Penning