Remember the reaction you got to that five-opera ring cycle you composed, with yourself as the main protagonist? That one you performed to your extended family at your 21st birthday party? It went on until half four in the morning; several sets of relatives left and haven't spoken to you in the eleven years since? If you've managed to block it out, then panic not - 50 Song Memoir will jog your memory.
If you haven't been drawn to The Magnetic Fields yet, it's fair to assume that you're not likely to dip a toe in the water with a five-CD, fifty-song opus, weighing in at nearly thirty quid. However, if you are considering total Magnetic Fields immersion, here are the basics. Stephin Merritt celebrated his fiftieth birthday in February 2015. That day, he began recording this album, in which each song represents a year in his life. Merritt got away with such grand designs in 1999, composing the acclaimed "69 Love Songs". This time round, some songs feel hastily constructed, the decision to make fifty songs meaning some tracks made the cut that, ordinarily, would not.
Emblematic of The Magnetic Fields, ukes, synths and Merritt's resonant baritone grumblings bejewel the finest tracks. Musically, they hit a sweet spot on CD4 (Merritt's thirties), with the melancholic, cinematic quartet of "1999_Fathers in the Clouds", "2000_Ghosts of the Marathon Dancers", "2001_Have You Seen It In The Snow" and "2002_Be True To Your Bar", the latter an ode to the creative inspiration to be derived from the simple but admirable act of spending a long time in one's local hostelry. "1981_How To Play The Synthesizer" (aged sixteen) is a nifty Kraftwerk homage and "1974_No" combines cheery strums, soaring harmonies and exultant brass as the backdrop to a nine-year-old's first forays into nihilism.
Lyrically, Merritt's sardonic and his downright naughty songs tickle us most. Preceded by the heady, late-teenage electronica of "1983_Foxx and I" and nightclub anthem "1984_Danceteria", "1985_Why I am Not a Teenager" recognisably portrays early-20s, post-youth austerity as "When you never get paid,/And you never get laid". With subsequent age comes increased lechery. A Lord Flashheart cry of 'Woof!' on "2012_You Can Never Go Back To New York" celebrates how, in the Big Apple, 'There's lots of fresh meat for romancin'. "2013_Big Enough For Both of Us" has more double entendres than this album has songs; he invites the addressee to take in hand his throbbing 'special body part', before the tender denouement, 'please be careful, it's my heart'.
If the motto of the album's final song, 'Everybody's somebody's fetish', is true, then some fetishists out there will love every minute of "50 Song Memoir". For many, the best songs would fashion a splendid double album. Size isn't important, or so I've been told, right?