Song Of The Week - The Magnetic Fields - The Book Of Love
The Magnetic Fields have been around for over 20 years. They enjoy a strong cult audience. They have flirted with the edge of the mainstream. They have been making terrific records for all that time.
The group’s founder, Stephin Merritt, has had his song writing talents compared to Cole Porter and Irving Berlin and championed by the likes of Bruce Springsteen. He is in love with the pop song, and a master of its form.
Writing in notebooks in a selection of bars around the world, (though mostly New York), his prolific talent has seen him also record under incarnations such as The 6Ths, The Future Bible Heroes and The Gothic Archies.
It is however in the guise of the ever-flexible four piece The Magnetic Fields that he has come closest to big time success, never more so than with the release of the ground-breaking – and simply bloody wonderful - 69 Love Songs back in 1999, the last great work of art of the 20th century. The triple album was what it said on the jewel case, a collection of 69 love songs (Merritt had originally aimed for 100 Love Songs but either couldn’t fund it, couldn’t write it, or couldn’t be bothered, so figured 69 was the nearest significant number, romantically speaking.) It is a vast array of styles, tones, textures and depicted events, running the full gamut of everything the word “love” can throw up at you, unified by a profound sense of melody, an incredibly assured way with a lyric, an equal mix of longing, pathos, and wonderful knowing humour. Backed by a fantastic band, a great inventive use of instrumentation (with Merritt’s cherished ukulele often to the fore) and, very simply, a deep understanding of the pop song. It’s no wonder critics evoke Berlin and Porter, because Merritt’s songs at times seem timeless, but also incredibly of their time. Bitingly contemporary and songs that will last forever.
There’s not a great deal of official footage of The Magnetic Fields out there, so we’ve opted for one from this live radio session, The Book of Love, a defining song from the masterpiece that is 69 Love Songs.
And the cinematic connection? Loads of ‘em. One of their songs, Reno Dakota, name checks Godfather composer Nino Rota. Merritt has provided soundtracks for various indie movies, most notably the underrated Pieces of April. They are occasionally joined on vocals by Daniel Hander, who is Lemony Snickett – and they made a film out of his books. Their guitarist is John Woo (OK, not that one.) There’s a really good doc out there that captures both the band live and Merritt’s mordant sense of humour, titled Strange Powers, (available to buy on iTunes – treat yourselves.) And, well, the best of their songs are just so damn cinematic. Enjoy.