“As the sprawling magnitude of its cheeky title suggests, 69 Love Songs is Stephin Merritt’s most ambitious as well as most fully realized work to date, a three-disc epic of classically chiseled pop songs that explore both the promise and pitfalls of modern romance through the jaundiced eye of an irredeemable misanthrope. A true A-to-Z catalog of touchingly bittersweet love songs that runs the gamut from tender ballads to pithy folk tunes to bluesy vamps, the sheer scope of the record allows all of Merritt’s musical personas to converge – the regular use of guest vocalists recalls his work as the 6ths, the romantic fatalism suggests the Gothic Archies project, and the stately melodies evoke the Future Bible Heroes.” JA
“The album was originally conceived as a music revue. Stephin Merritt was sitting in a gay piano bar in Manhattan, listening to the pianist’s interpretations of Stephen Sondheim songs, when he decided he ought to get into theatre music because he felt he had an aptitude for it. ‘I decided I’d write one hundred love songs as a way of introducing myself to the world. Then I realized how long that would be. So I settled on sixty-nine. I’d have a theatrical revue with four drag queens. And whoever the audience liked best at the end of the night would get paid.’” WK
“The variety of 69 Love Songs also derives from the many song genres that Merritt raids and filters through his own sensibility. Merritt has said ‘69 Love Songs is not remotely an album about love. It’s an album about love songs, which are very far away from anything to do with love.’ Some of the genres are obvious, as in the songs Punk Love, Love Is Like Jazz, World Love and Wi’ Nae Wee Bairn Ye’ll Me Beget.” WK
“Other songs indirectly reference some of Merritt’s favorite artists, including Fleetwood Mac (No One Will Ever Love You), Cole Porter (Zebra), Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (Let’s Pretend We’re Bunny Rabbits), The Jesus and Mary Chain (When My Boy Walks Down the Street), Billie Holiday (My Only Friend), and Irving Berlin (A Pretty Girl is Like...).
“Another way of understanding 69 Love Songs is through Merritt’s praise of an artist (Laurie Anderson) who ‘write[s] heartbreaking melodies with words that make fun of heartbreaking melodies.’ Consider Yeah! Oh, Yeah! where Stephin and Claudia, playing jilted lovers modeled closely on Sonny & Cher, sing their complaints to one another, overplaying and overstating their grievances such that their words become garish declarations of woe (‘what a dark and dreary life / are you reaching for a knife?’) to which the other character isn’t really capable of responding but must still follow in tone (‘yeah, oh yeah’). The lack of a firm distinction between content (what is sung) and form (the way it is sung) implies that this couple lives and dies by virtue of how persuasively they can sing to one another, and illustrates the persistent Magnetic Fields songwriting device of trapping a character within the conventions or formalities of a genre.” WK
“Several of the songs bend genders as well as genres. For example: a man sings ‘He’s going to be my wife’ (‘When My Boy Walks Down the Street’) and ‘the princess there is me’ (Long-Forgotten Fairytale). Other common themes include place names (e.g. Washington, DC; Lower East Side; North Carolina; Paris; Venice), animals (e.g. bear, goldfish, jellyfish, rabbit, bat, dog, boa constrictor, cockroach), as well as themes common throughout Merritt’s work (e.g. the moon, dancing, rain, and eyes).” WK
“Naturally, given a project of this size there’s the occasional bit of filler, but all in all, 69 Love Songs maintains a remarkable consistency throughout, and the highlights (I Don’t Believe in the Sun, All My Little Words, Asleep and Dreaming, Busby Berkeley Dreams, and Acoustic Guitar, to name just a few) are jaw-droppingly superb.” JA
“The whole is much greater than the sum of its parts, however – for all of Merritt’s scathing wit and icy detachment, there’s a depth and sensitivity to these songs largely absent from his past work, and each one of these 69 tracks approaches l’amour from refreshing angles, galvanizing the love song form with rare sophistication and elegance.” JA “Despite its three-hour length, the music boasts the craftsmanship and economy that remain the hallmarks of classic American pop songwriting, a tradition Merritt upholds even as he subverts the formula in new and brilliant ways.” JA