Monday, July 30, 2007

Stephin Merritt: Songwriter Supreme

I have no qualms about proclaiming Stephin Merritt as the greatest songwriter of our generation. Anyone who is a fan of The Magnetic Fields, The 6ths, The Gothic Archies, Future Bible Heroes, or his solo soundtrack work would most likely find cause to agree. However, I begin to wonder if it would be hyperbolic to call him the greatest songwriter of all time.

I'm sure Mr. Merritt himself would disagree. He would almost definitely proclaim Sondheim and Berlin to be his unequivocable superiors. And considering the fact that Irving Berlin did pen such unforgettable standards as 'There's No Business Like Show Business', 'God Bless America', 'Puttin' On The Ritz', and 'White Christmas', he has got a pretty good argument on his behalf. Though a deep look at Stephin Merritt's catalogue runs equally engaging.

Setting aside his ability to write music, play music, and sing (in which all three he excels at), Stephin's lyrics resonate with wit, humor, passion, and, mostly importantly, something often rare in twenty-first century pop music... intelligence.

Stephin Merritt manages to make the idea of rhyming itself seem new with his skill. Words that an ordinary person would not think of pairing, Mr. Merritt does meaningfully. Words that do not rhyme but, on paper, look like they should, he pairs up in such a way that the singer is forced to make them rhyme.

His songs themselves drip with such love and wit that you would be hard-pressed to believe that he did not, in fact, invent the concept of love. He merely understands it better than any of us ever could.

A minor selection of lyrics are presented below:

"And now you want to leave me for good
I refuse to believe you could
You forget we're not made of wood
Well, darling you may do your worst
because you'll have to kill me first..."

like when two fireflies fluoresce
Just like everything I guess
it was utterly meaningless"

"And if some dim bulb should say
we were in love in some way
kick all his teeth in for me
and if you feel like keeping on kicking feel free"

"My girl is the queen of ten villages
We live on the fruits of her pillages
She eats other queens, she's very religious"

"No rose conveyed your sentiments
not even a petunia
but you've got vague presentiments
and I've got little Junior"

"We've got so many tchotchkes
we've practically emptied the Louvre
In most of our palaces
there's hardly room to manouevre"

"I can play my ribcage like a xylophone"

It is worth nothing that all of the above lyrics are selected from songs from the Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs, Vol. 3. One disc out of well over a dozen that he has released in the past fifteen years.

And, in conclusion, I would like to post in its entirety the lyrics to one of the most poetic of all Magnetic Fields songs:

It makes you blind, it does you in
It makes you think you're pretty tough
It makes you prone to crime and sin
It makes you say things off the cuff

It's very small and made of glass
and grossly over-advertised
It turns a genius into an ass
and makes a fool think he is wise

It could make you regret your birth
or turn cartwheels in your best suit
It costs a lot more than it's worth
and yet there is no substitute

They keep it on a higher shelf
the older and more pure it grows
It has no color in itself
but it can make you see rainbows

You can find it on the Bowery
or you can find it at Elaine's
It makes your words more flowery
It makes the sun shine, makes it rain

You just get out what they put in
and they never put in enough

Love is like a bottle of gin
but a bottle of gin is not like love

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