In his years as The Magnetic Fields, US songwriter Stephin Merritt has not shied away from concept. Following sprawling works such as 69 Love Songs, and an album of songs beginning with the letter i, the 52-year-old left-field troubadour has written a life in 50 musical vignettes, whose fun tropes include incorporating seven instruments in seven different combinations. All the possible Merritts are on board, from stentorian intellectual chansonnier to giddy teenage new waver – one whose amused air rarely falters, even when listing painful physical ailments (Weird Diseases), or being misunderstood (Quotes). Musical quirks do pile up, but the joys here are many, from Merritt’s deadpan views on ethics, discos, Levi’s 501s, tears and his local (Be True To Your Bar), to his magnificent way with a tune, in which complexity lurks within simplicity.
Kitty Empire is the Observer's pop critic. She has written for NME and occasionally crops up on Radio 4, 5Live, BBC 6Music, and has appeared on BBC2's The Culture Show and Newsnight Review. @kittyempire666