The Magnetic Fields’ 50 Song Memoir is out now on Nonesuch Records. The five-CD / five-LP set chronicles the 50 years of songwriter Stephin Merritt’s life with one song per year; it was produced by Stephin Merritt with additional production by Thomas Bartlett and Charles Newman. 50 Song Memoir is available in five-LP and five-CD editions including an extensive interview by Daniel Handler and facsimile handwritten lyrics by Merritt. To pick up a copy, head to iTunes, Amazon, or the Nonesuch Store, where it is also available as a standalone bound book with a full-album download card. You can also hear selections from the album on Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube.
The video for the album track "'68 A Cat Called Dionysus" premiered today and can be seen below. Directed by José Zayas & Alex Basco Koch, the video features illustrations by Alexander Petrowsky and animation by John Erickson and was produced by Ghost Corporeal. It was originally created for the Magnetic Fields' 50 Song Memoir concert tour directed by Zayas. The tour, featuring the songs of the album over two nights per city in a stage extravaganza, gets into full swing on March 15; full schedule is on the tour page.
The reviews are rolling in:
It's "quite an achievement," says NPR Music. "Some of its wordplay is truly remarkable ... More importantly, Memoir is a tour-de-farce of melody and arrangement." Merritt spoke with NPR's Morning Edition about the project, his love for ABBA, and more; you can hear what he had to say at npr.org.
"[T]he story of his life sounds a lot like a Magnetic Fields album, and a very good one at that," writes Pitchfork's Sam Sodomsky. "50 Song Memoir is an immersive, incisive listen ... It suggests that our deepest wisdom can be located in our most personal thoughts." The review concludes that Merritt's creating this new collection has left "his catalog 50 songs richer as a result."
The new collection is "a highly entertaining summary of pop culture of the past half-century," says the Wall Street Journal's Jim Fusilli. "50 Song Memoir is a treat ... The album is a generous gift to those who seek to know more about its composer or simply share a journey through a half-century with a wry but ultimately amiable guide."
"Really, it is a celebration of Merritt’s sky-high range as a writer and a player, through the exploration of the circumstances that helped cultivate it," writes New York magazine's Vulture reviewer Craig Jenkins. "50 Song Memoir is a chance for Merritt to nail his memories down in an indelible document, a delightful flip through the untold back pages of one of rock’s most singular voices, and, all in all, the best damned Magnetic Fields album in the last ten years."
"Stephin Merritt is a genius," exclaims Exclaim! reviewer Sarah Greene, who gives the album a nine. "[W]hat lingers, along with the musical brilliance and uncharacteristic openness of his 50 Song Memoir, is Merritt's humour; his distinctive baritone delivering countless witty sardonic kernels, sometimes assisted by a well-timed dramatic pause, all wrapped up in catchy, unforgettable songs."
The Independent's i gives the album a perfect five stars, naming it Album of the Week. "Growing up smart, inquisitive and gay through a time of turbulent social change," writes the Independent's Andy Gill, "Merritt’s refracted reminiscences frequently offer thoughtful and incisive insights into bigger issues, and with deceptive sleight of story."
The Guardian gives the album four stars, with reviewer Dave Simpson saying that "the music evolves from a solitary ukulele to richly observed baroque new wave and operatic synthpop, all with terrific tunes. It’s an album worthy of Merritt’s grand half-century."
The Evening Standard gives four stars to this "extraordinary achievement." The Scotsman made 50 Song Memoir its Album of the Week, giving it four stars as well. It's "50 witty and wide-ranging vignettes," writes reviewer Fiona Shepherd, "[a] delightful chronicle of a life lived imaginatively." The Irish Times gives it four stars too, declaring it a "triumph."
Loud and Quiet gives the album a nine out of ten, exclaiming: "50 Song Memoir is a true triumph."
"Merritt's skill of finding the exact turn of phrase to underscore a feeling is one that few achieve," says Consequence of Sound's David Sackllah, "and watching him turn that inward is illuminating."