Stephin Merritt’s latest collection offers 14 songs from the songwriter’s earlier years leading up to his classic Magnetic Fields album 69 Love Songs. The record includes five previously unreleased tracks—featuring three from his science fiction musical Song From Venus. In addition, Merrit’s compilation includes work from his other projects Buffalo Rome, the 6ths and the Gothic Archies. Obscurities also contains “The Sun and the Sea and the Sky”—an outtake from 69 Love Songs (or the 70th love song, depending how you look at it).
Obscurities will be out in stores on Aug. 23. Listen to full record and read Merritt’s track-by-track description of each song below.
“Forever and a Day”
From The Song from Venus, my unfinished science fiction musical with Daniel Handler. When people use “The Book of Love” as a wedding song I want to scream, “But I have a better one!” Now I decree that everyone can get married.
“Rats in the Garbage of the Western World”
My tribute to the Cure. When Erik Davis wrote our first major album review in the Village Voice, he favorably contrasted us with “the inexplicable popularity of the Cure.” I demur; “Boys Don’t Cry” is the best song of the New Wave.
“I Don’t Believe You”
The Moog Satellite that sounds like a chorus of ringing telephones was sold to me by Mac McCaughan for $50. Then it broke beyond repair, but it was certainly worth it. And it’s so pretty I still keep it in my living room.
“Plant White Roses”
I wrote this song, in less time than it takes to sing it, as a parody of Patsy Cline. But everyone seems to take it seriously. The previous, superior take was spoilt by a car-door slam outside just as the last chord hit.
“Rot in the Sun”
At the time I wrote this, I didn’t like Top 40 (it was the “grunge” moment) but now I use it as background music for songwriting in bars. And I live in LA! I’ve totally sold out. But to what?
“The Sun and the Sea and the Sky”
This song didn’t go on 69 Love Songs because it wasn’t actually about romantic love. Now it sounds like a Germanic hymn to nature, as directed by Leni Riefenstahl.
“Yet Another Girl”
I love the combination of maracas both real and fake. Guest singer Stuart Moxham, acerbic songwriter of the Young Marble Giants, turned out to be as sweet and gentle as a baby beaver.
“Scream (‘Till You Make the Scene)”
This was to be the first hit for my heavy metal duo Hag, with my friend Beth Death, but now she’s dead and both her name and the band’s have been taken.
“The Song From Venus”
From the musical of the same name. Almost all the sounds you hear are vocal in origin, which reminds me strongly of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.
Shirley Simms and I wrote this when I was fourteen and she was, I believe, twelve, after a viewing of Barbara Steele’s horror classic She Beast.
“When I’m Not Looking, You’re Not There”
A paranoid fantasy. The arrangement consists of taking random chord tones in random octaves, and hocketing them between dozens of instruments. It took all day to make it sound that arbitrary.
“Take Ecstasy With Me”
I had never taken ecstasy at the time I arranged this, or I wouldn’t have let the bass drum ever stop. I like that the singer, cofounding Magnetic Field Susan Anway, sounds rather like a nun.
“When You’re Young and in Love”
Another song for The Song from Venus. The ostensibly jokey lyric for this song is so brutally true, I can barely listen to it now. “The poisoned fangs of time,” indeed.
“You are not my Mother and I Want to go Home”
This was done for the audiobook of Neil Gaiman’s novel Coraline, of which I later wrote a whole Off-Broadway musical. Another paranoid fantasy, here with a plastic flamingo. I used to have a plastic flamingo in my dorm room at NYU, betraying a nostalgia for suburbia I would never have admitted at the time.