Don’t take it too seriously, that’s all
The Magnetic Fields’ Quickies is exactly that – a collection of 28 quick tracks, all under three minutes long, some only seconds long. The project is fronted by Stephin Merritt, but there’s a big team of contributors behind him, namely band members Sam Davol, Claudia Gonson, Shirley Simms, John Woo, and long-time friends Chris Ewen, Daniel Handler and Pinky Weitzman.
Of course, any album with thirteen-second tracks is going to be a little tongue-in-cheek. Just take lyrics like these, “she’s got the biggest tits in history, she loves to show them around…they each weigh half a pound…your average tit weighs half an ounce” (“The Biggest Tits in History”), and you get a good idea of the kind of music Merritt is making. “Bathroom Quickie” goes so far down the satire scale, with its, “give me an enormous hickey…Ricky, god I want a bathroom quickie, I want you to get me sticky,” that it feels a little barefaced. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s just not for everyone. Usually, you look at an album and you can pick out parts, even if it’s in the absolute slightest, that you like, but not with Quickies. Merritt leaves no room for doubt on this record – it’s either all in “I love this” or “no thanks what is this,” and the answer isn’t as important as Merritt’s conviction – he leaves us with a slap in the face, lick your sticky fingers collection of music. Don’t take it too seriously, that’s all.
The issue with this kind of music though, as quirky as it is, is that it all just becomes a bit heavy. As a listener, you start to ask yourself why you’re evening listening to something so gimmicky. You ask yourself, “Is this really what music is supposed to be about?” We need musicians like Merritt to make us ask these kinds of questions because they ultimately unsettle the music industry’s all too comfortable norms, but many listeners are probably going to end up on the wrong side of the answer he’s hoping for. Merritt has given everything he’s got to the sound aesthetic of this record – its scrappy production, phony lyrics and its all too self-aware caricature – but left no space for a single moment of touching sincerity.
Even a track like “The Day The Politicians Died,” which grounds itself more prominently than anything else on Quickies, with solemn piano chords and sweetly vulnerable vocals, can’t help Merritt regain his composure and bring us something even partially viable as a complete song. “Kraftwerk in a Blackout”, with its guitar-strewn power, and “The Little Robot Girl”, with its Beatles inspired melodies, still only make it half the way towards something truly great.
However what’s more interesting about these tracks, and the vast majority of the 20-something other ones, is that they’re so agreeable, so rewarding. They’re catchy and practically after one listen they’re stuck in your head. “Death Pact (Let’s Make A)” gives the sense of a hilariously co-dependent couple in just four lines and 13 seconds, while the protagonist of “The Best Cup Of Coffee in Tennessee” reveals his desire to marry a waitress him who doesn’t know it yet. “When the Brad Upstairs Got a Drum Kit” gets even more absurd, with an emphatic relationship between two people that becomes so intense it blocks out the drone of the neighbors who just got themselves a new drum kit. Eventually, the couple’s roof even gives out and still, they hear silence. It’s like Merritt has made a storybook here, a collection of character sketches, or maybe even poignant profanity, such that Quickies is undeniably vivid. If it’s not the music that makes you see things, feel things, understand things, then let The Magnetic Fields’ vast imagination give you all that. The pages of this book may be short, coffee stained and sticky, torn at the edges and half ripped out, but it’s not the pages we are here for, it’s the world inside of them.