Stephin Merritt is a great storyteller with a really analytical perspective — except, maybe, when it comes to his own feelings.
As the driving force behind The Magnetic Fields, Merritt has written hundreds of songs. Almost none of them are autobiographical; it's just not his style. And yet, for his 50th birthday, he decided he was going to write 50 songs, one for each year of his life.
"That was the point of the album," he says. "I'm the least confessional singer songwriter in history, maybe, so why not do the exact opposite of what I usually do — 50 times."
The end result is the new Magnetic Fields album 50 Song Memoir, and it embodies the quirky charm that has brought Merritt so many fans. The songs have this, "Yeah, this is how it happened" kind of feel to them — though according to Merritt, that doesn't necessarily make them any more honest than his earlier work.
"I don't think I'm dishonest about my feelings in other songs — it's just that I'm not claiming those feelings," he says. "I'm saying, 'This is a feeling. Here is a situation that goes with that feeling.' The situation may or may not involve me, Stephin Merritt, but it certainly involves me, music listener. There's a mild expectation that I will actually be searching within my deepest soul for nuggets of self-help-style truth, but that is totally not what I am interested in."
Merritt spoke with NPR's David Greene about his love for ABBA, his childhood on religious communes, and what his latest work does and does not say about his personality. Hear more of their conversation at the audio link.