Stephin Merritt

Stephin Merritt is primarily involved with The Magnetic Fields; he seems to use his name for soundtracks and musicals. He's my favorite all time musical anything.

see The Magnetic Fields, The 6ths, Future Bible Heroes, The Gothic Archies

Information: The Distant Plastic Treehouse
Suggested First Purchase: Pieces of April Soundtrack

Eban and Charley Soundtrack (2002) -- Stephin Merritt makes a soundtrack. Lots of it sounds like a soundtrack: quiet piano music, etc. Lots of it sounds like Merritt's version of a soundtrack: rain sticks and bouncing things, etc. And then lots of it are really great Stephin Merritt songs like you expect, the best of which are "Maria," "This Little Ukulele," "Tiny Flying Player Pianos," and "Water Torture." B

Pieces of April (2003) -- In a way, this is better than the Eban and Charley soundtrack in that all the songs are great, but in a way it's not as good because there are only five new songs (the other five songs on this 26 minute disc are previously-released Magnetic Fields and 6ths recordings). This could be a nice inexpensive intro to Merritt's music in general for potential new fans. For old fans, of course, we will be happy to pay two dollars apiece for each new song since no one else makes our hearts melt quite like this. B

The Orphan of Zhao (2003/2006) -- Stephin seems to have invented the "lo-fi musical," which has all the elements of a regular musical, but without the bombastic instrumentation that usually accompanies them.  Part of this is, of course, necessity, but it's just as much aesthetic.  The music here is more interesting than pleasing.  There are no poppy tunes here, but it has a certain mood to it that I like.  The one exception is the song "What a Fucking Lovely Day," which could easily be a Magnetic Fields song. B

Peach Blossom Fan (2004/2006) -- Merritt's second musical is wonderful.  It's as if someone complained that the first one wasn't fun or poppy enough so he did something about it with this one.  This one also has more in common with traditional musicals, with great intro songs like "Here at Madam Plum's" or character introduction songs (there are six of these).  The two most fun songs are "Fan Dance Cha-Cha" and "Ukulele Me!" which could be Magnetic Fields songs, but they also fit well here within this context.  Other songs that stand out are "Shall We Sing a Duet?" and its reprise, though both are incredibly short (around a minute) and you wish there was a full pop version.  The absolute standout melody is the one from "And He Would Say..." which also appears in "And She Would Say..." and "Barbarians."  It was so lovely he had to have it in three songs.  It's one of the prettiest things Merritt has written, which is saying a lot.  The Emperor character's voice in this musical might get on people's nerves (he does mine, even though I realize he's meant to sound annoying).  He sounds like a cross between someone doing a good Miss Piggy impression and someone doing a bad Mickey Mouse, but he only has two songs.  Everything is great here, Merritt's best musical. A

My Life as a Fairy Tale (2005/2006) -- Stephin gets away from China for a while to write a musical based on the fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson.  The songs here are very straightforward: neither good and poppy like Peach Blossom Fan or weird and interesting like The Orphan of Zhao.  None of the songs are bad either, but they have a dull quality to them. B

Showtunes (2006) -- After showing three musicals off-Broadway in the last three years, this "best of" was compiled and released to record stores.  The three musicals in their entirety, however, were only released on iTunes and other digital music stores.  This is a shame for a handful of reasons.  For one, the three musicals are so different from each other that someone is likely to want to listen to them on their own, with the songs in a proper context.  Mixing them up on this collection doesn't add too much.  Also, these aren't exactly the best songs.  They're representative, but the greatness of a few from Peach Blossom Fan is sacrificed in order to make room for The Orphan of Zhao and My Life as a Fairy Tale.  I realize I have a definite preference for Peach Blossom Fan, but I imagine others will have this problem with the one they prefer.  It would have been better to release the three musicals separately (besides downloadable form, which is annoying), or to release them as one big two-disc collection.  If nothing else, you could fit most of all three musicals on one disc, trimming only a few songs.  This collection only uses half the space that a CD will hold.  Another option was the original idea to release the first two musicals as Two Chinese Operas (which was supposed to have been done in 2005) and release the other one later (with another musical, if there is to be one).  What I'd really like is for some of these songs to be redone as Magnetic Fields songs, since most of these feel incomplete.  Whatever.  Complaints aside, this collection will do, and I have to admit that it is a little nice to have everything mixed up like this from time to time, even if not  most of the time. B

Copyright (c) Feb 2002 - Mar 2006 by Rusty Likes Music