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Stephin Merritt makes his ‘50 Song Memoir’ count

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Annie Zaleski

Four stars

The Magnetic Fields 50 Song Memoir

Some people celebrate turning 50 by throwing a giant party or taking a lavish vacation. Not Stephin Merritt. The Magnetic Fields founder marked his milestone by creating 50 autobiographical songs, one about each year of his life—and the resulting five-disc boxed set, 50 Song Memoir, finds a perfect balance of sentimentality, nostalgia and playfulness. The droll “’68: A Cat Called Dionysus” speaks of Merritt’s tempestuous relationship with a childhood pet (“He hated me/But I loved him”); the whimsical, toy shop-electro highlight “’88: Ethan Frome” finds him reminiscing about reading the book (“When will they make you a musical?/There have been far worse crimes”); and the sheepish (but cheeky) cabaret number “’03: The Ex and I” is about ex sex.

Unlike Merritt’s previous massive opus, 1999’s 69 Love Songs, 50 Song Memoir has deliberate pacing and compositional cohesion, and features a pronounced musical arc from youthful exuberance toward quieter reflection. The electronic-leaning songs are especially resonant: “’83: Foxx and I,” a gothic New Wave nod to Ultravox’s John Foxx; “’84: Danceteria,” a primitive synth-pop ode to the iconic danceclub; and “’97: Eurodisco Trio,” which approximates early Human League. 50 Song Memoir cements Merritt as the rare artist at his best when tackling huge, ambitious projects.

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