Rhythm & Views

Magnetic Fields

In the spirit of 1999's epic 69 Love Songs, a three-CD set that actually contains 69 genre-romping love songs, Stephin Merritt's Magnetic Fields' i lives up to its title. In this case, the ante has been upped; the songs aren't just love songs this time: They're all love songs whose titles begin with the letter "I," which isn't, actually, that difficult to do--just look at the first letter of each sentence of this review. (It's my little tribute.) If you're Stephin Merritt, though, it's not the challenge that's the issue; it's the frame from which to work. In this case, as always, Merritt has used the frame to create a work of art that, like 69 Love Songs, gives new life to the tried and true love song.

In terms of lyrics, Merritt is in top form--all of his songs could fit perfectly in a Broadway musical about a guy who just can't seem to run out of ways to sing about relationships. "I Don't Believe You" (which was actually released as a single before 69 Love Songs) uses punctuation marks and typographic symbols lyrically: "So you quote love unquote me," sings Merritt at the beginning of the song, and later, "so you're brilliant gorgeous and, ampersand after ampersand."

Interestingly, i claims to have no synthesizers at all, anywhere, which is atypical of any of Merritt's projects (he's also the brains behind The Future Bible Heroes, The Gothic Archies and The 6ths). Instead, Sam Davol, Claudia Gonson and John Woo help out by playing banjo, electric sitar, harpsichord, cello and piano. It all combines to make i just as innovative and ingenious as 69 Love Songs, proving that there is no end to Merritt's ability to write love songs that bite.