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Music / The Magnetic Fields

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The Magnetic Fields is an indie pop band fronted by Stephin Merritt. Their best known work is the 1999 triple Concept Album 69 Love Songs. Merritt's lyrics are often sarcastic, bitter, and humorous.


  • Distant Plastic Trees (1991)
  • The Wayward Bus (1992)
  • The House of Tomorrow EP (1992)
  • The Charm of the Highway Strip (1994)
  • Holiday (1994)
  • Get Lost (1995)
  • 69 Love Songs (1999)
  • i (2004)
  • Distortion (2008)
  • Love at the Bottom of the Sea (2012)
  • 50 Song Memoir (2015)
  • Quickies (2020)

The Magnetic Fields provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Anchored Ship: Played for Laughs in the song "The One You Really Love":
    I gaze into your eyes of blue
    But their beauty is not for me
    You're thinking of someone who's gone
    You're dreaming of the one you really love
    You're dreaming of...the corpse you really love!
  • Anti-Love Song: Over two-thirds of 69 Love Songs falls into this trope, with titles like "How Fucking Romantic," "Let's Pretend We're Bunny Rabbits," "A Chicken With Its Head Cut Off," and "The Cactus Where Your Heart Should Be." And that's just the first disc!
    • Hell, most of Merritt's entire discography falls into this.
    • Also occasionally subverted into actual love songs, as with "Papa Was A Rodeo."
    • Their debut single, "100,000 Fireflies" is a weird kind of subversion of this trope, being at once an earnest expression of love and something much darker:
    You won't be happy with me,
    But give me one more chance.
    You won't be happy anyway.
  • Ax-Crazy: Merritt seems to be fond of this. Such characters appear in "Yeah! Oh Yeah!", "Your Girlfriend's Face" and "California Girls" (the latter with an actual ax).
  • Attractive Bent-Gender: The entire point of the song "Andrew In Drag".
  • Break Up Song: "I Thought You Were My Boyfriend"
  • Busby Berkeley Number: "Busby Berkeley Dreams"
  • Being Good Sucks: The reasoning behind I Wish I Had An Evil Twin. Having an evil twin would allow the singer to have bad deeds done for him without feeling guilty about it.
  • Cats Are Mean: "A Cat Named Dionysus", about Merritt's childhood pet, plays it straight.
    He hated me, 'cause I loved him.
  • Common Meter: Most of "Wi' Nae Wee Bairn Ye'll Me Beget" and "Two Kinds Of People" are in common meter.
  • Concept Album:
    • The Charm of the Highway Strip consists of songs dealing mostly with travelling and transportation.
    • 69 Love Songs is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
    • All the songs on i start with "I."
    • Distortion is, well, distorted, and Realism uses real acoustic instruments. Apparently he named the albums after the thing people were most likely to complain about.
    • 50 Song Memoir is a (partly) autobiographical account of Merritt's life up to his 50th birthday.
    • Quickies is a collection of jingles and songs that are all under two minutes or less.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Hooooooo boy.
    So you, quote, "love", unquote, me?
  • Drowning My Sorrows: "Reno Dakota"
  • Drunken Song: "Too Drunk to Dream"
  • Emo Teen: Discussed in "I Don't Want To Get Over You"
    I could make a career of being blue
    I could dress in black and read Camus
    Smoke clove cigarettes and drink vermouth like I was seventeen
    That would be a scream...
  • The Eeyore: Stephen Meritt comes across this way with his baritone vocals and self-effacing demeanor.
  • Empathic Environment: Taken up to eleven in "I Don't Believe in the Sun"
    The moon to whom the poets croon has given up and died
    Astronomy will have to be revised
  • Everyone Has Standards: Stephen's mom may believe the universe to be a simulation and has tried every kind of new-age hippie pursuit going, but "she draws the line at crystal healing!"
  • Evil Twin: "I Wish I Had an Evil Twin"
  • Flowers of Romance: "I'm Sorry I Love You"
    A single rose in your garden dwells
    Like any rose, it's not itself
    It is my love in your garden grows
    But let's pretend it's just a rose.
  • Gayngst: In an interview, Merritt lamented that most of the gay men his age he knew had died of AIDS.
  • Gender-Blender Name: According to Word of God, "Mike" in "Papa Was A Rodeo" is a woman.
    "Papa Was a Rodeo," as should be explained in the box set book, is (in my mind) sung by a man, who resembles a Lee Hazelwood character, to a woman named Mike, as Nancy Sinatra's character was called in "Wild Angels." It is thus explicitly a Lee & Nancy tribute, with an actual lyric reference, however roundabout, which is more than I usually do.
  • Genre Roulette: 69 Love Songs contains nearly every genre of love song you can care to name.
    • Get Lost runs the gamut from Shoegazing ("Famous"), Synth-Pop ("Smoke and Mirrors"), Slowcore ("Why I Cry"), Jangle Pop ("Love is Lighter Than Air"), Noise Pop ("The Village in the Morning"), folk ("With Whom to Dance?"), Dream Pop ("The Dreaming Moon") and many more.
  • God Is Love Song: "Kiss Me Like You Mean It," though it's somewhat of a subversion in having God return the affection physically.
  • Gratuitous French: Fully half of the rather short "Underwear" is this.
  • I Am the Band: Stephin Merritt. Although there are other recurring members, such as Daniel Handler, the real life identity of Lemony Snicket. Merritt's other band, The Gothic Archies, released an album of songs about A Series Of Unfortunate Events. Drummer/vocalist/business manager Claudia Gonson is the non-Merritt musician who's had the most staying power.
    • The band is indeed dominated by Merritt's personality, and they've recorded barely any songs not authored by him. However, Merritt doesn't sing a word on the first two albums and only does about a third of the vocals in concert these days, the rest alternating between Claudia Gonson and Shirley Simms.
      • Specifically, Susan Anway is the singer on the first two albums, while on 69 Love Songs vocals alternate between Merritt, Gonson, Simms, Dudley Klute and L.D. Beghtol.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: All the tracks on i all begin with the letter "I".
  • I Love the Dead: "Zombie Boy"
  • Instructional Title: "How to Say Goodbye", "How to Play the Synthesizer"
  • Intercourse with You: "Let's Pretend We're Bunny Rabbits" and "Three-Way" are less than subtle examples.
  • In the Style of: Distortion is essentially an album-long homage to Psychocandy by The Jesus and Mary Chain.
  • Jerkass: Stephen's mother's numerous romantic partners do not sound like very pleasant people if "Life Ain't All Bad" and "Happy Beeping" are anything to go by.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: Two from "Fido, Your Leash Is Too Long": "you scare me out of my wits when you do that shiht-zu" and "I don't care what you fock-shounds do."
  • The Lost Lenore: The narrator's crush from "The One You Really Love" has a serious case of this.
  • Love at First Sight: "Don't Look Away" gives this a creepy twist by being a melodramatic ode to someone Merritt's narrator merely held eye contact with for a few seconds in a crowd.
  • Love Is a Drug: The entirety of the lyrics of "Love Is Like A Bottle Of Gin".
  • Loves My Alter Ego: "Andrew in Drag", about a guy who's in love with his best friend's drag persona, which he only did as a one-off.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: A staple of much of Merritt's songwriting. He's even said he does this on purpose so the songs can fit whatever what mood you're in, depending on whether you listen to the tune or the lyrics.'
    • "100,000 Fireflies" is a very lovely-sounding song driven by Susan Anway's beautiful vocals. The opening lyrics are "I have a mandolin / I play it all night long / It makes me want to kill myself" and it doesn't get much more positive from there.
  • Meaningless Meaningful Words: In "How I Failed Ethics," Stephen tries to use his atheist scepticism to argue morality, which his religious (a "menaanite", in Stephen's words) professor didn't warm to. So Stephen spent the entire next semester coming up with an ethical system composed of seemingly-profound nonsense that so confused his professor that he ended up giving a passing grade.
  • Metaphorgotten: "A Pretty Girl Is Like..." keeps getting its similes mixed up until it finally concludes that a pretty girl is like... a pretty girl.
  • Miniscule Rocking:
    • Several songs on 69 Love Songs hover around the 1-minute mark. "Roses" clocks in at 28 seconds.
    • Their 2020 album Quickies is an entire record of these. Only two songs are longer than 2.5 minutes and a whole bunch are shorter than a minute.
  • New Sound Album: The albums following 69 Love Songs did away with signature synthesizers and ventured into various new styles, with mixed approval.
  • The Original Changes The Gender: Merritt frequently writes from both male, female, gay and straight perspectives, and with both male and female singers in the band happy to sing from either perspective... let's just say it never gets boring.
    • One of Stephin Merritt's other projects, Future Bible Heroes, covered The Human League's "Don't You Want Me" for a tribute album: Claudia Gonson sings the first verse and Stephin sings the second (the latter starts with the line "I was working as a waitress at a cocktail bar").
  • Retraux: After spending the 2000s avoiding the use of synthesizers, the band made Love at the Bottom of the Sea as a throwback to the Synth-Pop sound of their early 90s work, albeit using electronics that were invented after 69 Love Songs.
  • Rhetorical Question Blunder: "Yeah! Oh, Yeah!"
    Her: Are you out of love with me?
    Are you longing to be free?
    Do I drive you up a tree?

    Him: Yeah! Oh, yeah!
  • Rich Bitch: The narrator in "Zebra," big time.
    We've got so many tchotchkes, we've practically emptied the Louvre
    In most of our palaces, there's hardly room to maneuver
    Now I shan't go to Bali today, I must stay home and Hoover up the gold dust...
    But that doesn't mean we're in love.
  • Royal "We": Played for Laughs in "For We Are The King Of The Boudoir."
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Suddenly There Is A Tidal Wave" says, "We must have been the butt of all the jokes in the world/For trying to live like Pippi Longstocking."
    • The opening to "Epitaph for My Heart" references the 'do not remove cover' warning label found on most electrical appliances. There's also a reference to the Brill Building later on.
    • "The Death Of Ferdinand De Saussure" shouts out not only the titular linguist, but justifies his death by saying "This is for Holland/Dozier/Holland!"
    • "Acoustic Guitar":
    Acoustic guitar, if you think I play hard
    Well, you could have belonged to Steve Earle
    Or Charo or Gwar, I could sell you tomor-
    -row, so bring me back my girl
    • "Foxx & I", a tribute to former Ultravox frontman John Foxx.
  • Skeletal Musician: Referenced in "Xylophone Track": "I can play my ribcage like a xylophone."
  • Stalking is Love: "The Night You Can't Remember" is arguably a case of this.
  • Straight Gay: Stephin Merritt again.
  • Take That!: In "It Could Have Been Paradise" Stephen Merritt alludes to Shakespears Sister ripping off one of his songs: Siobhan Fahey, the main member of Shakespears Sister, wanted to cover Future Bible Heroes' "Hopeless" but rewrite the lyrics and take half the songwriting credit and royalties. Merritt denied permission, but the song appeared on the next Shakespears Sister album anyway, with altered lyrics and no credit given to Merritt or the other members of the group. In the song, he compares this to an earlier incident where a boyfriend of his mother set his lyrics to music without his permission in an attempt to impress her:
    He stole my song, better back off mister
    Fast forward two decades,
    Same thing happened, but with Shakespears Sister
  • Title-Only Chorus: "Three-Way" is a title only song.
  • Uncommon Time: Most notably "Love Is Like A Bottle Of Gin," written in 21/8
  • Wham Line: Not uncommon in Merritt's songbook but perhaps the most dramatic case is "Yeah! Oh, Yeah!" which starts out as an Anti-Love Song but then dives straight into a Murder Ballad by the end.
    What a dark and dreary life! Are you reaching for a knife? Could you really kill your wife? Yeah, oh yeah!