Just an occasional feature in which we celebrate artists we love …
There’s prolific, there’s ultra-prolific, and then there’s Stephin Merrit, the lead singer-songwriter behind The Magnetic Fields. Not just in the context of the Magnetic Fields, however (although their back catalogue is impressively sprawling) – Merrit has also taken on frontman duties for several other musical projects, including The 6th, The Gothic Archies and the Future Bible Heroes.
Nonetheless: the Fields are his most well-known artistic excursion, and with good reason. Infact – and not that we want to take a swing down Hyperbole Avenue – they could easily be described as the closest thing America has to The Smiths: fusing together irresistible melody, biting satirical wordplay, androgynous sexuality and single-minded purpose of vision.
Comparisons with Merrit and Morrissey run further than mere aesthetics – Merrit’s un-rock-star-like demeanour has seen him labelled ‘the most depressed man in rock’, which sets him up neatly alongside Mozza in the cheerfulness stakes. Unlike Morrissey’s post-90s career of diminishing returns, however, the quality of Merrit’s work has always been of a standard to actually deserve his loyal fanbase.
1999’s ’69 Love Songs’ remains to many their defining moment – a three-disc concept piece which features, well, 69 Love Songs. It’s the essence of their sound: occasionally bewildering, often patchy, but every now and then shining with such pop brilliance that you cannot help but forgive each and every misstep. It’s easy to argue that Merrit should leave a lot more material on the cutting room floor … but then would the Magnetic Fields still be the Magnetic Fields if he did that?
Predominantly accustomed to blending together acoustic and electronic sounds, Merrit has expanded out of this mindset in recent years with his ‘no-synth’ trilogy of albums. The upcoming ‘Love At The Bottom Of The Sea’ reportedly sees the group returning to their trademark noise – yet one can be sure there’ll always be something surprising in store.