By Maria Caetano
Stephin Merritt has turned 50 last year, in February, and has been working since on the release of a new album, 50 Song Memoir, which will be out on March 10, this Friday, as a 5-disc set, each standing for a decade on Magnetic Fields’ frontman life. It is not the first time Merritt goes into such lengthy and copious chore — having“69 Songs before — but here he runs a different concept: each song is meant to chronicle a year in the songwriter’s life, starting in 1966.
As eventful his life may be, the track of autobiography is explored with contention and dryness enough to have prying ears playfully dismayed. Jump to 1981, learn that Merritt was getting his hands first on a synthesizer as you listen to his baritone voice go over instructions on how to play effects. The song goes through the whole range of effects of the electronic gear. By 1986, Merritt is failing Ethics by showing a penchant for Modernity towards an unappreciative lecturer. In 1993, he was sharing flat, pets and bedbugs, with three other guys. And later in 2002, setting office in bars and cafes where he would drink too much tea.
It is not the biographic lyrics — brief, cool and withdrawn, while witty — as much as the use of an unending array of instruments that makes the 50-years concept meaningful. Stephin Merritt is said to have played over one hundred instruments in this album, all the ones he has probably learned how to play throughout his long-spanning career, ranging from synths to cellos to ukuleles, and smartly coping with the chronology. The density and variety in instruments played is one of the most striking aspects of the album. Merritt’s lyrics come immediately second, pouring acid humour over the odd love theme.
50 Song Memoir
The Magnetic Fields
Nonesuch Records, 2017