When The Magnetic Fields put out an album, there’s usually a concept involved. Their last album, “50 Song Memoir,” features a song for every year of principle songwriter Stephin Merrit’s Life. “69 Love Songs” features, well, 69 songs about love. The album “I” features 14 songs about self (most of which start with the word “I”). So, what’s the theme for the new album, Quickies? Twenty-eight songs under 3 minutes long. So, does Quickies fall short of past experiments? Will Quickies stand the test of time? I can’t answer that question, but I will give a brief Quickies review. I’ve called Stephin Merrit, one of the best lyricists of our time, so I’m pretty excited.
So, let’s get to it….Here’s my Quickies Review
The Castles of America
Quickies starts with The Castles of America: 35-second song, pleading adventure. The protagonist sets off on a two-year adventure to explore this great country. A nod to the novel On The Road, The Castles of America excites us as we start Quickies. We expect a lot of adventure! The Castles of America assures us that our expectations will be met.
The Day the Politicians Died
The start of The Day the Politicians Died greets us with a bare piano in a minor key. Throughout the song, this is the only accompaniment. Four or five notes, repeated. This minimalist approach gives the listener a “back to basics” feeling.
As vocalist Claudia Gonson joins the ballad, we hear a tale of a sort of utopia. We see a world where one day, all politicians leave their bodies. The world rejoiced at their newfound anarchy and even suggested getting rid of the priests as well.
As this election year ramps up, The Day The Politicians Died provides an anthem of sorts. A reminder that we’re all in charge of our destinies. While politicians have their place in this world, we could do without at least a few of them.
The Day The Politicians Died ends with a great pun by the way. “It’s all one big party now / ‘Cause all the politicians died.” Get it, it’s a big party because the political parties are gone? Ok, ok, I thought it was funny.
Let’s Get Drunk Again (And Get Divorced)
Let’s Get Drunk Again (And Get Divorced) talks about a spousal relationship that started with drinking. Naturally, as the marriage began with alcohol, so should the marriage end with alcohol. At least that’s what the protagonist says!
Kraftwerk in a Blackout
Kraftwerk in a Blackout gives a few interesting metaphors. Dolls without Voodoo (still creepy, but no effect). The Enterprise without Sulu (going nowhere fast), and of course. Kraftwerk in a Blackout (Electronic musicians performing without electricity). The metaphors describe the protagonist and their partner – something is just off. They want to dance again, but a proverbial back injury keeps them from dancing.
As the song closes, we hear the most heartbreaking part of Kraftwerk in a Blackout. The line “Will we ever dance again” echos itself as the song fades into the distance. We feel the heartbreak of a couple who have lost their spark – a couple who have fallen out of love.
She Says Hello
At just over a minute long, She Says Hello might be one of the shortest songs on an album of short songs. Still, it says so much! The lyrics to She Says Hello sound like poetry. But then again, that’s to be expected from a master lyricist such as Stephin Merritt.
(I Want to Join a) Biker Gang
(I Want to Join a) Biker Gang sounds a lot more produced than most of the rest of Quickies. A full band, including electronic instruments such as guitars, synths, and drums, accompanies the song. A far cry from the simplistic instrumentation of other songs on Quickies.
But what does (I Want to Join a) Biker Gang actually say? The song talks about the desire to throw off one’s “empty” life, and go on adventures. The song mentions leaving their wife and children behind and traveling with bearded Hell’s angels. (I Want to Join a) Biker Gang’s plot sounds like an R rated version of the movie Wild Hogs. Hmm, too bad Tim Allen didn’t go with this version, maybe that movie wouldn’t have sucked so hard.
The Best Cup of Coffee in Tennesse
The Best Cup of Coffee in Tennessee is a love song, but not a typical love song. The protagonist’s future bride is an older, unattractive, intelligent waitress. The song uses words such as fat, old, mean, and short. The protagonist doesn’t seem to care. In fact, the protagonist seems to like some of these qualities.
One could certainly dive deeper for meaning in The Best Cup of Coffee in Tennessee, but I choose to take the song at face value. The song (to me) shows there’s someone for everyone. Aww, how sweet.
Oh, and that chorus is so catchy!
I’ve Got a Date With Jesus
I’ve Got a Date With Jesus feels a bit blasphemous, and it might very well be. However, peeling back the layers of the song, we find a woman who’s just done with jerks. Jesus, in I’ve Got a Date With Jesus, represents a man who cares, as opposed to the other men the protagonist has dated.
Finishing the Quickies Review
Normally, when I do an album review I like to look at every song on the album. However, writing about all 28 songs on Quickies might take more time than I have, and would probably bore the reader. So I’ll let the reader explore the rest of the album. But trust me, Quickies is quite the adventure. We hear songs that certainly must draw inspiration from mid-century literature such as The Naked Lunch, On the Road, and Howl. We peer into the lives of so many people. Evil people, simple people, desperate people, lonely people, perverse people, and even normal people. That’s all part of the adventure. Again, the opening track, Castles of America, sets us up for quite the epic journey. As I finish my Quickies review, I find that epic journey with every song.
Overall Grade: A-
Quickies is available on major streaming services, or buy the 4 disc LP box set.