by Kris Handel (@khandel84)
20 years ago Stephin Merritt’s Magnetic Fields released what could be regarded as his magnum opus (not to diminish the rest of his impressive catalogue), in the triple disc 69 Love Songs. These albums were a sort of tribute to classic songwriting in the style of Brill Building songsmiths as well as the theatrical grandeur of Broadway (Magnetic Fields took the production to stage off Broadway for a few shows). It was a work of great emotional and stylistic depth full of Merritt’s sharp wit and turns of phrase, carried out masterfully by a rotating ensemble of vocalists that kept everything sharp and constantly moving. In December 2018 Living Statue Records released a tribute to this tour de force to benefit No More Dysphoria, a non-profit working to help make transitioning a more viable option for those in need, that carries the spirit and love of 69 Love Songs with a wide ranging assortment of DIY/”Indie” artists.
You Can Sing Me Anything comes flying out of the gates with Sailor Boyfriend’s interpretation of one of the standout tracks “Yeah! Oh, Yeah!” that amplifies the sardonic heartbreak with shards of guitar and booming, distorted, programmed drums. Alex Mercuri spits out Merrit’s acidic barbs with an appropriate sneer with the exact right amount of yearning and exasperated disengagement of the original. Yeehaw Junction also represent themselves well with “The Things We Did and Didn’t Do” where multiple keyboards create a hazy environment for the vocals to cut through with assertiveness. Fern Mayo deconstructs and dirty ups “Underwear” into a brooding and slightly seedy crawl through blooping synths and layers of distorted vocals that brings the track to a whole new dimension.
Some of the more recognizable names involved, bring Merritt’s tunes a renewed sense of passion and urgency that is refreshing, such as Palehound tackling “I Can’t Touch You Anymore” and Illuminati Hotties “The Way You Say Goodnight”. On the former Ellen Kempner and company swing along somewhat jazzily with looping rhythm section work occasionally cut through with an imposing shard like guitar break in between Kempner’s coos. Illuminati Hotties brighten up “The Way You Say Goodnight” with Sarah Tudzin’s jaunting acoustic guitar and cherubic vocals that sparkle and lilt in beautiful fashion, driving everything forward before giving way to a bit of longing keyboard. Even the little interludes strewn throughout the original recordings get a fresh reworking from the likes of Human People who offer a lively and shambolic punk inflected “Love is Like a Pretty Girl,” and Dump Him turn “Reno Dakota” into a charging and slightly raging anthem as Jaclyn Walsh snottily vocalizes the anxiety of relationships Merritt lays out.
There’s a lot of ground to cover with this project, the variation of interpretations throw a lot at you, and to be fair most tracks land with an impact which speaks highly of the quality of all the performances on display. Each artist here has clear admiration and appreciation for Merritt’s songcraft and do themselves and the originals justice, be it with complete deconstructions or songs close hewn to the original with a few flourishes to make them their own. There is something to enjoy in every track and there’s a wide assortment of artistic styles, yet the tribute maintains a coherence and vibrancy that rarely dissipates. Everyone involved should be commended for their additions and this is a tribute album that will have a little something for almost everyone, as well as a whole lot of love and acceptance. That should warm everyone’s hearts and spirits, I highly suggest digging in and enjoying everything on display.