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50 Song Memoir

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Review

Stephin Merritt has never been afraid to think big, at least as far as his music is concerned, and his ad-hoc group the Magnetic Fields enjoyed their breakthrough with the wildly ambitious 1999 set 69 Love Songs, a three-disc collection featuring, yes, 69 songs about love. While that album bests 2017's 50 Song Memoir by 19 tracks, in nearly all other respects, 50 Song Memoir is a project of even greater scale and scope. Begun as Merritt was celebrating his 50th birthday, 50 Song Memoir finds him embracing pop songs as the medium for an autobiography, with each of the 50 tracks representing a different year in his life. The result is not an operatic narrative that ticks off various major events in Merritt's first half-century, but 50 Song Memoir does deliver a fascinating portrait of Merritt's life and times. Over the course of two-and-a-half hours, Merritt shares tales of his truly strange childhood, his interactions with his mother's many eccentric boyfriends, the joys and annoyances of life in New York City, his love of the city's bars and nightclubs, his dreams of being John Foxx of Ultravox, his hatred of surfing, relationships with numerous romantic partners, and the role music has played in nearly all of these episodes. As is his habit with the Magnetic Fields, Merritt handled the sizable majority of the instrumental chores on this album himself, making use of his large collection of electronic and acoustic instruments, and the results have a clanky, homespun charm that meshes nicely with the alternately buoyant and snarky tone of his frequently lovely melodies. But the real star of 50 Song Memoir is Stephin Merritt the songwriter -- these missives are full of wit, intelligence, and engaging wordplay that bring a playful touch to even the most dire subject matter (and a very human sense of gravity to the funnier numbers). And the closer, "Somebody's Fetish," is a hilarious but encouraging statement of how love eventually comes to us all, showing even Merritt knows the value of a happy ending. There are very few working songwriters who could have pulled off this sort of a project this well, and even fewer who could make this giant-sized song cycle feel so intimate and accessible. 50 Song Memoir is a rare example of Stephin Merritt offering a look into his offstage life, but just as importantly it's a reminder of why he's a truly great songwriter, and this ranks with his finest work. ~ Mark Deming
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  1. # Track Artist Length
  2. 1 '66: Wonder Where I'm From The Magnetic Fields 2:42
  3. 2 '67: Come Back as a Cockroach The Magnetic Fields 2:32
  4. 3 '68: A Cat Called Dionysus The Magnetic Fields 2:45
  5. 4 '69: Judy Garland The Magnetic Fields 3:14
  6. 5 '70: They're Killing Children Over There The Magnetic Fields 2:35
  7. 6 '71: I Think I'll Make Another World The Magnetic Fields 2:55
  8. 7 '72: Eye Contact The Magnetic Fields 2:55
  9. 8 '73: It Could Have Been Paradise The Magnetic Fields 3:6
  10. 9 '74: No The Magnetic Fields 2:53
  11. 10 '75: My Mama Ain't The Magnetic Fields 2:57
  12. 1 '76: Hustle 76 The Magnetic Fields 3:14
  13. 2 '77: Life Ain't All Bad The Magnetic Fields 4:15
  14. 3 '78: The Blizzard of '78 The Magnetic Fields 3:15
  15. 4 '79: Rock'n'Roll Will Ruin Your Life The Magnetic Fields 2:58
  16. 5 '80: London by Jetpack The Magnetic Fields 2:58
  17. 6 '81: How to Play the Synthesizer The Magnetic Fields 3:5
  18. 7 '82: Happy Beeping The Magnetic Fields 3:8
  19. 8 '83: Foxx and I The Magnetic Fields 2:42
  20. 9 '84: Danceteria! The Magnetic Fields 3:7
  21. 10 '85: Why I Am Not a Teenager The Magnetic Fields 3:2
  22. 1 '86: How I Failed Ethics The Magnetic Fields 2:55
  23. 2 '87: At the Pyramid The Magnetic Fields 3:7
  24. 3 '88: Ethan Frome The Magnetic Fields 2:22
  25. 4 '89: The 1989 Musical Marching Zoo The Magnetic Fields 3:3
  26. 5 '90: Dreaming in Tetris The Magnetic Fields 3:19
  27. 6 '91: The Day I Finally... The Magnetic Fields 2:19
  28. 7 '92: Weird Diseases The Magnetic Fields 3:8
  29. 8 '93: Me and Fred and Dave and Ted The Magnetic Fields 3:8
  30. 9 '94: Haven't Got a Penny The Magnetic Fields 2:48
  31. 10 '95: A Serious Mistake The Magnetic Fields 3:9
  32. 1 '96: I'm Sad! The Magnetic Fields 2:9
  33. 2 '97: Eurodisco Trio The Magnetic Fields 3:13
  34. 3 '98: Lovers' Lies The Magnetic Fields 3:5
  35. 4 '99: Fathers in the Clouds The Magnetic Fields 2:49
  36. 5 '00: Ghosts of the Marathon Dancers The Magnetic Fields 3:3
  37. 6 '01: Have You Seen It in the Snow? The Magnetic Fields 2:50
  38. 7 '02: Be True to Your Bar The Magnetic Fields 3:33
  39. 8 '03: The Ex and I The Magnetic Fields 2:56
  40. 9 '04: Cold-Blooded Man The Magnetic Fields 3:3
  41. 10 '05: Never Again The Magnetic Fields 3:14
  42. 1 '06: "Quotes" The Magnetic Fields 2:15
  43. 2 '07: In the Snow White Cottages The Magnetic Fields 2:48
  44. 3 '08: Surfin' The Magnetic Fields 2:46
  45. 4 '09: Till You Come Back to Me The Magnetic Fields 2:27
  46. 5 '10: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea The Magnetic Fields 3:1
  47. 6 '11: Stupid Tears The Magnetic Fields 2:42
  48. 7 '12: You Can Never Go Back to New York The Magnetic Fields 3:9
  49. 8 '13: Big Enough for Both of Us The Magnetic Fields 3:2
  50. 9 '14: I Wish I Had Pictures The Magnetic Fields 3:5
  51. 10 '15: Somebody's Fetish The Magnetic Fields 3:39

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