The Magnetic Fields: 50 Song Memoir review – Stephin Merritt's richly observed life

Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields.
Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields. Photograph: Jordi Vidal/Redferns via Getty Images

Eighteen years after the epic 69 Love Songs, Stephin Merritt has crafted an autobiography in 50 songs, one for each year of his life. The singer-songwriter rifles through twice that number of instruments as his lugubrious baritone drolly documents pivotal experiences. There is the childhood pain of rejection by a pet (“We had a cat called Dionysus … every day another crisis”), his mother’s ghastly taste in men and his suspicions, in ’92 Weird Diseases, that he may have Asperger’s.

Some songs are drily or blackly funny, others are wickedly vengeful (“When I write my memoirs, you will read them with pain … searching in vain for your name”), dark or deeply moving. As his life unfolds from romantic disaster to pop crisis (“Rock’n’roll will ruin your life and make you sad,” he deadpans) to some sort of equilibrium, the music evolves from a solitary ukulele to richly observed baroque new wave and operatic synthpop, all with terrific tunes. It’s an album worthy of Merritt’s grand half-century.

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