Friday, March 14, 2014

i to Z

When I wrote about The Magnetic Fields' i in my Beyond 69 Love Songs blog last month, I mentioned its main gimmick (all of the song titles begin with the letter 'I') but failed to mention the other one. See if you can spot it:

It's not as immediately obvious as the 'I' thing, but look closely, and you'll notice that all of those tracks are in alphabetical order (where a space counts as a letter that comes before 'A'). This raises some interesting questions about the album's sequencing; I can only think of three possible scenarios for this:

  • It's Just a Coincidence
    Stephin Merritt wrote and recorded fourteen new songs, and it just so happened that he sequenced them in alphabetical order. This possibility seems very unlikely indeed - what are the odds of that happening?

  • The Songs Were Sequenced Alphabetically, With No Regard for Flow
    At first, I thought that this was unlikely. If Stephin Merritt just put these songs in alphabetical order, why does the album flow so nicely? It starts off all lush and springtimey, whereas the later songs get a bit more ominous and - for want of a better word - bitty. Check out Is This What They Used to Call Love, in all its pieced-together glory:

And then there's It's Only Time, the only sensible choice of closing track on the album. You can't tell me that this song wasn't deliberately chosen as the finale:

However. The human brain does have a tendency to see patterns everywhere - think of how we see shapes in the clouds - and so it could well be that I'm seeing an order that isn't there. Even if these songs were in reverse alphabetical order (starting with IOT and ending with I Die), I'd probably be able to convince myself that it made sense; after all, It's Only Time wouldn't seem like such an obvious choice of closing track if it wasn't already the closing track. 

  • The Titles Came First
    This theory is particularly appealing to me, because when I write songs, I almost always start with a title and then write a song to fit. I can imagine that Stephin Merritt wrote down fourteen song titles (in alphabetical order) before writing a note of music; that would mean he already knew that It's Only Time would be the final track, and he was able to give it an appropriately satisfying finish.
I suppose there's a fourth possibility - Stephin Merritt could have written the songs first, and then strategically titled them in alphabetical order. But most of these songs hinge on their titles; Irma is the only one that could conceivably have been titled after the fact.

I'm afraid that, unlike i, I don't really have a satisfying conclusion here. I personally think he wrote the titles first and the songs second, but then again, perhaps I only think that because that's how I would have done it.

It's food for thought, anyhow. Enjoy your weekend.

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