There are many faces to Stephin Merritt: grumpy queen, disgruntled queen, bemused queen, ornery queen and, my favorite, bitchy queen. This is quite fitting ‘cos the man knows about a million ways to break a heart, from both the giving and receiving ends, and has told us all about it in song for close to two decades. Of his multiple monikers the most infamous is the Magnetic Fields, a truly dynamic group whose many albums have ranged from minimalist pop (Distant Plastic Trees), to lo-fi dance pop (Get Lost), to indie chamber pop (i), to noise pop (Distortion) and most recently to folk…you thought I was gonna say pop (Realism). And let us not forget the triple album magnum opus, 69 Love Songs, that covers most all those styles plus country, doo-wop, a cappella, jazz and “punk” to name a few. And if all of that weren’t enough, and it’s not, Merritt fronts even more groups - the self-praising and collaborative 6ths, the bubblegum brood of the Gothic Archies and the discothèque Future Bible Heroes - which allow him to push his magic envelope even further, and, finally, an impressive solo output that includes forays into show tunes. Merritt’s wit is truly unparalleled and he can turn a phrase that makes you grin even as it socks you in the stomach as easily as the average man can turn a corner. But what makes this choleric queen so downright irresistible is how absolutely effortless all his songs seem. He uses the same basic chords that the rest of us mortal musicians use, and yet the melodies drawn from them make the angels weep on a daily basis. Even when it’s not his plaintively low baritone bemoaning yet another love catastrophe, other vocalists who take the mic cannot hide the fact that this song is distinctly Merritt and his aloof shadow still lingers within the spotlight of attention.
The Magnetic Fields
The Magnetic Fields – All the Umbrellas in London
The 6ths - As You Turn to Go
The Gothic Archies - The Abandoned Castle of My Soul
The Future Bible Heroes - I'm a Vampire
Stephin Merritt - Sorry, Wrong Show