The Magnetic Fields are good at gimmicks. To date, the finest moment from Stephin Merritt’s endlessly sharp indie-pop project has been the 1999 triple-disc set 69 Love Songs. And next year, they’ll seek to outdo it with a massive five-CD album called 50 Song Memoir. As Merritt explained when he announced the album back in May, the new album will cover Merritt’s entire 50 years on this planet, with one song for every one of the years he’s been alive. He started writing the album on his 50th birthday, and he plays more than 100 instruments on the recording. And now he’s shared five of those songs.
The five songs that Merritt has shared show the same lyrical cleverness and dour hookiness that Merritt has always brought to his music, and their conceptual bent is fascinating. This should give you some idea how the album will work: “’74 No” concerns philosophical childhood questions, “’86 How I Failed Ethics” tells the story of an academic dispute, “’93 Me And Fred And Dave And Ted” is about being young and living in squalor, “’02 Be True To Your Bar” is a song about writing songs about writing songs, and “’13 Big Enough For Both Of Us” is a long-distance love song.
The group has also announced a tour where, over two nights, they’ll play 50 Song Memoir in every city in which they stop. Below, listen to the five new songs and check out the tour dates.
11/18-19 – North Adams, MA @ MASS MoCA
12/02-03 – Brooklyn, NY @ Brooklyn Academy Of Music
3/15-16 – Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer
3/19-20 – Washington, DC @ Lincoln Theatre
3/21-22 – Durham, NC @ Carolina Theatre
3/24-25 – Knoxville, TN @ Big Ears Festival
3/27-28 – Atlanta, GA @ Variety Playhouse
4/14-15 – Boston, MA @ Berklee Performance Center
4/19-20 – Chicago, IL @ Thalia Hall
4/22-23 – Minneapolis, MN @ Fitzgerald Theatre
4-27-28 – Los Angeles, CA @ Royce Hall
4/30 – 5/01 – Oakland, CA @ Fox Theatre
5/03-04 – Portland, OR @ Revolution Hall
5/06-07 – Seattle, WA @ The Moore Theatre
50 Song Memoir is out 3/3/17 on Nonesuch.