Stephin Merritt, the mad genius responsible for The Magnetic Fields, was struck by inspiration in a midtown Manhattan gay piano bar. Originally conceived as 100 Love Songs, a musical revue or cabaret, Merritt compromised in number when he realized that 100 2-minute songs, with no downtime or intermissions, would still be a bit lengthy. Eventually, the logistical absurdity of putting on a cabaret with rotating singers and dozens of songs led Merritt to put his ideas on tape (DAT? I have no idea), and 69 Love Songs was born.
Like most of Merritt's work, 69 Love Songs is thoroughly toungue-in-cheek, although many of the songs are incredibly poignant. Merritt places some of his narrators fairly bizarre settings -- a Scotsman leaving for war ("Abigail, Belle of Kilronan"), an encounter with Ferdinand de Saussure ("The Death of Ferdinand de Saussure") -- and writes heartfelt songs of passion, confusion, and loss. Other songs are unapologetically horny and silly, or saccharine. There is a whole set of songs -- "Love Is Like Jazz", "Experimental Music Love", "Punk Love", "World Love", "Acoustic Guitar", and "Xylophone Track" (about death by the blues) -- in which Merritt toys with specific musical styles, pairing them with totally incongruous subjects. Merritt also keeps the genders of his narrators and their lovers (partners, stalkees, whatever) ambiguous -- Merritt is a really, really flaming homosexual -- or turns the expected roles on their head, by writing queer country songs ("Papa Was A Rodeo") and the like.
69 Love Songs is Merritt's masterpiece. It still astounds me that a man cut 2:50:00 of music I like, music that manages to be hilarious, embittered, heartfelt, and playful in two consecutive songs. Some noders have made comparisons between Stephin Merritt and Morrissey, kind of apt given their tendencies for drama, but Merritt's ability to balance self-parody with earnestness makes 69 Love Songs a real pleasure (whereas The Smiths, one of my favorite bands, can be pretty grating).
As for comparisons to Merritt's other work: I really like The 6ths's Wasps' Nests (another album of rotating singers] and The Charm of the Highway Strip (another theme album), although both of those lack the variety and depth of 69 Love Songs. "Take Ecstacy With Me" is the one song that ought to be appended. Really, there is nothing, and will never be anything, quite like this album.
I am not going to append a whole song list; rather, I am going to node songs (not whole lyrics, don't shoot) about which I have non-stupid things to say. Right now, that's none of them.