Monday, February 17, 2014

Beyond 69 Love Songs

If you've already got 69 Love Songs by The Magnetic Fields, you may feel that there's no need to investigate their other albums. And, really, that's fair enough. The jumbo-sized triple set is undeniably career-defining; Stephin Merritt did set out to write an instant, standalone songbook, and the resulting album requires no extra embellishments. Besides, sixty-nine songs is more than many bands accumulate across their entire career.

Still, if sixty-nine songs didn't satiate you - if those three discs merely whet your appetite for magnetic goodness - the MF discography has plenty of other gems for you to unearth. Excluding 69 Love Songs, a total of nine albums have been released under the Magnetic Fields name, and while I'm not sure any of them are actually better than the big one, they're certainly well worth a look.

So, which of the 'other' Magnetic Fields albums should you check out first? Well, here are three suggestions..

Want to see where it all began?

It's hard to pick the better of the first two MF albums - Distant Plastic Trees has the hits (including 100,00 Fireflies) but album #2, The Wayward Bus, feels a bit more cohesive and fully-formed. Fortunately, you don't have to choose one or the other, because as of 1994, both albums are included on one jam-packed CD. These are the records that featured Susan Anway, not Stephin Merritt, as lead vocalist, and her shy-sounding vocals (combined with Merritt's sticky sweet synthesisers) make this the perfect springtime listen. Wait for a sunny day, grab your headphones, and go for a walk.

My favourite tracks from The Wayward Bus/Distant Plastic Trees are When You Were My Baby, Candy, Smoke Signals, and - of course - 100,000 Fireflies.

Want more high-concept brilliance?

The Charm of the Highway Strip is my favourite MF album outside of 69 Love Songs. It's based around themes of travelling and loneliness (not to mention the vampires), and the swathes of synth-country that fill this disc truly are a treat. Think George Jones meets New Order. It sounds great no matter how you listen to it, but I reckon it would sound best if you, like the various protagonists, were hurtling down a lonely road in the middle of the night.

My favourite tracks from The Charm of the Highway Strip are Long Vermont Roads, Born on a Train, and I Have the Moon.

Want more like 69 Love Songs?

When trying to pick the MF album that most resembled 69 Love Songs, I initially thought of Get Lost, which features a nice blend of gentle romance (With Whom to Dance?) and more intricate synth stuff (Smoke and Mirrors). But I eventually decided that i, the LP that came directly after 69 Love Songs, was a better fit. It's the first of Merritt's 'no-synth trilogy', and probably the best of his post-69 albums, with plenty to offer the listener who loved the triple set and aches for more. In an Operetta recalls the frilly genre play of For We Are the King of the Boudoir, while the chamber pop stuff like I Die and Irma could be compared to any number of its predecessors. Elsewhere, I Thought You Were My Boyfriend is an electro-pop raveup that contains no electronics, and Infinitely Late at Night harks back (sort of) to Love is Like Jazz. The album's gimmick, incidentally, is that every song title begins with the letter 'I'.

My favourite tracks from i are I Thought You Were My Boyfriend, I Was Born, and It's Only Time.

So there you have three potential launchpads for your leap into the wider world of The Magnetic Fields. Enjoy!

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