Irish Times / Lauren Murphy: "Stephin Merritt: ‘Being a gay person who writes lyrics is enough to invite Morrissey comparisons’" (August 31, 2022)

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Stephin Merritt: ‘Being a gay person who writes lyrics is enough to invite Morrissey comparisons’

Excerpt:
“Well, the similarities between me and Morrissey are basically demographic,” he says, smiling. “I think just being a gay person who writes lyrics is enough to invite Morrissey comparisons. I’ve weirdly never been compared to Marc Almond, who I probably feel is closer, because I’m famous for my dirty jokes — as is Marc Almond.” He pauses. “I’ve always enjoyed Morrissey as a lyricist. I hope he can get his public image together again; he seems to have fallen down recently, in that regard. He needs to be nice to some children and dogs on national television, before he actually turns into WC Fields.”


Regards,
FWD.
 

Eldritch

Well-Known Member
I think we have almost identical opinions on his music. Actually, I is a fantastic album (I also just think it's brave to follow up 69 Love Songs with...ANYTHING, but it's actually REALLY good), and Distortion is like half incredible (I'll Dream Alone may be my favorite song of his), but after that...oh my goodness. Realism has maybe two or three good songs, and the album they put out after just horrified me. The descent into cutesy/jokey/New Yorker-y lyrics overwhelmed everything. What I love about his earlier work, and also 50-Song Memoir, is the laughing through the tears. Same with what Morrissey does. But when he puts out just pure joke songs, I can't stand it.
Yes, we do seem to be on the same page here. I also hate Merritt's occasional habit of turning his songs into jokes. And even before Quickies I would have said, that the stupidest thing he could do is start making shorter songs. Because his songs rarely reach three minutes anyway! Writing longer songs with more interesting structures and different parts would have been a much more inspired move.
 

SqueezingMySkull

Active Member
Yes, we do seem to be on the same page here. I also hate Merritt's occasional habit of turning his songs into jokes. And even before Quickies I would have said, that the stupidest thing he could do is start making shorter songs. Because his songs rarely reach three minutes anyway! Writing longer songs with more interesting structures and different parts would have been a much more inspired move.

As a short songwriter myself, I have no issues whatsoever with Merritt writing short songs. I prefer shorter songs, I think. What I don't understand is calling attention to it in a kind of half-baked way like Quickies does. Plenty of 69 Love Songs were short. I just don't think that's enough of a "concept" and instead it felt to me like an excuse to just poop out stuff quick(ie.) Like when I heard about the album I thought it would be tons and tons of short ideas, but it's basically a normal album. A pop song under 2 minutes to me is the norm, it's what most of my favorite bands, and myself, does. I just don't see it as a "thing", if that makes sense.
 
S

Steve C.

Guest
Different expressions of the same bored intellectual alt rock attitude. Don’t know how a Moz fan could dislike the Magnetic Fields with song titles like “All She Cares About is Mariachi” and “I Wish I Had an Evil Twin”! Those are up there with “We Hate it When Our Friends Become Succesful” and “I’m the End of the Family Line”!
 

Gregor Samsa

I straighten up, and my position is one of hope.
Different expressions of the same bored intellectual alt rock attitude. Don’t know how a Moz fan could dislike the Magnetic Fields with song titles like “All She Cares About is Mariachi” and “I Wish I Had an Evil Twin”! Those are up there with “We Hate it When Our Friends Become Succesful” and “I’m the End of the Family Line”!
Morrissey’s wit isn’t quirky, cutesy wit for prepubescents. Merritt makes music for children, like I said previously. It’s infantile, twee and simple.
 

SqueezingMySkull

Active Member
Morrissey’s wit isn’t quirky, cutesy wit for prepubescents. Merritt makes music for children, like I said previously. It’s infantile, twee and simple.

You can certainly find a few Merritt songs that fit your characterization of him. There's about two Magnetic Fields albums I dislike entirely. But you could pick dozens, perhaps over a hundred songs that don't fit your characterization. Merritt's lyrics are often not cute or quirky, but painful, moving, funny and relatable. I'm genuinely surprised there's a Morrissey fan who doesn't like Merritt's material.
 

Gregor Samsa

I straighten up, and my position is one of hope.
You can certainly find a few Merritt songs that fit your characterization of him. There's about two Magnetic Fields albums I dislike entirely. But you could pick dozens, perhaps over a hundred songs that don't fit your characterization. Merritt's lyrics are often not cute or quirky, but painful, moving, funny and relatable. I'm genuinely surprised there's a Morrissey fan who doesn't like Merritt's material.
Even when he tries to be serious and “moving”, he comes across as someone who’s trying too hard to be witty and cute. I can’t take him seriously. Not to mention the music. It often sounds as if he’s been working on his songs for a full ten minutes.

I tried so hard with Merritt when I was in my early twenties. I was with this girl who was a fan, and I had friends that liked him. I felt I had to like him as well. I tolerated the album from 1994, but that was it. I tore my hair every time someone, without being ironic, claimed that 69 Love Songs was a masterpiece.
 

Eldritch

Well-Known Member
Fair enough, if you don't like Magnetic Fields, but for me The Charm of the Highway Strip and Get Lost are tremendous albums. 69 Love Songs is more of an impressive statement than a song-by-song gem, but you could easily compile a killer 30-song double album from it. Merritt could do with some of Morrissey's anger but then again Morrissey could do with some of Merritt's fearless approach to writing pop music about just about anything.
 

SqueezingMySkull

Active Member
Even when he tries to be serious and “moving”, he comes across as someone who’s trying too hard to be witty and cute. I can’t take him seriously. Not to mention the music. It often sounds as if he’s been working on his songs for a full ten minutes.

I tried so hard with Merritt when I was in my early twenties. I was with this girl who was a fan, and I had friends that liked him. I felt I had to like him as well. I tolerated the album from 1994, but that was it. I tore my hair every time someone, without being ironic, claimed that 69 Love Songs was a masterpiece.

69 Love Songs is a masterpiece. I'm not even sure how someone who doesn't like it can't even admit that it's quite a work. The creativity and songcraft on display is staggering.

Anyway, what is "witty and cute" about lyrics like:

"All the things you said you'd never say and you said anyway
The things we did and didn't do, the thing we did and didn't do
Come flooding back to me now"

or

I will stay if you let me stay
And I'll go if you let me go
But I won't go far away
Because you're my only home
And I will hide when you want hidden
And I'll roam if you say roam
But I just assume you didn't
Because you're my only home
When you cancel dinner plans
When you cross the street and you don't take my hand
When you make impossible demands
I wish I didn't understand

or

I've seen you laugh at nothing at all
I've seen you sadly weeping
The sweetest thing I ever saw
Was you asleep and dreaming

Well you may not be beautiful
But it's not for me to judge
I don't know if you're beautiful
Because I love you too much

I've seen you when your ship came in
And when your train was leaving
The sweetest thing I ever saw
Was you asleep and dreaming

or

or

Billie you're a miracle and God knows I need one
Sing me something terrible that even dawn may come
You and me, we don't believe in happy endings
Hey, Lady Day, can you save my life this time
Can you cry so beautifully you make my troubles rhyme
Hey, Lady Day, can you save my life again
My only love has gone away
Will you be my only friend
Billie you're a genius, enough to be a fool
a fool to gamble everything and never know the rules
Some of us can only live in songs of love and trouble
Some of us can only live in bubbles..

or

If I was the Grand Canyon
I'd echo everything you say
But I'm just me
I'm only me
And you used to love me that way
So you know how to love me that way.

Etc, etc. I could go on. Certainly Morrissey incorporates wit, metaphor and theatrics into the majority of his lyrics as well. Merritt's expertise is in incorporating a kind of walled off, NYC SoHo artsy vibe into painfully relatable and sad (and sometimes happy and romantic) lyrics. Not unlike Morrissey's british wit resting side by side with actual anguish and tragedy in his lyrics. The two of them are peas in a pod.

As for Merritt's music sounding like he does it in 10 minutes, I just have no idea what you're talking about. His compositional and orchestral arranging skills are clear, and his songs balance simplicity and complexity in intriguing ways. In fact Merritt rightfully criticized You Are The Quarry, lamenting that rock's "greatest lyricist" is saddled with uninspired arrangements, saying he wish they were more "thoughtful." He's correct.

Obviously you don't HAVE to like Merritt's music, but your specific criticisms of him don't make much sense to me. I even have my own problems with him. He's been terribly inconsistent for several albums now, and his songs have become too jokey. But they didn't used to be.
 
Last edited:

Gregor Samsa

I straighten up, and my position is one of hope.
69 Love Songs is a masterpiece. I'm not even sure how someone who doesn't like it can't even admit that it's quite a work. The creativity and songcraft on display is staggering.

Anyway, what is "witty and cute" about lyrics like:

"All the things you said you'd never say and you said anyway
The things we did and didn't do, the thing we did and didn't do
Come flooding back to me now"

or

I will stay if you let me stay
And I'll go if you let me go
But I won't go far away
Because you're my only home
And I will hide when you want hidden
And I'll roam if you say roam
But I just assume you didn't
Because you're my only home
When you cancel dinner plans
When you cross the street and you don't take my hand
When you make impossible demands
I wish I didn't understand

or

I've seen you laugh at nothing at all
I've seen you sadly weeping
The sweetest thing I ever saw
Was you asleep and dreaming

Well you may not be beautiful
But it's not for me to judge
I don't know if you're beautiful
Because I love you too much

I've seen you when your ship came in
And when your train was leaving
The sweetest thing I ever saw
Was you asleep and dreaming

or

or

Billie you're a miracle and God knows I need one
Sing me something terrible that even dawn may come
You and me, we don't believe in happy endings
Hey, Lady Day, can you save my life this time
Can you cry so beautifully you make my troubles rhyme
Hey, Lady Day, can you save my life again
My only love has gone away
Will you be my only friend
Billie you're a genius, enough to be a fool
a fool to gamble everything and never know the rules
Some of us can only live in songs of love and trouble
Some of us can only live in bubbles..

or

If I was the Grand Canyon
I'd echo everything you say
But I'm just me
I'm only me
And you used to love me that way
So you know how to love me that way.

Etc, etc. I could go on. Certainly Morrissey incorporates wit, metaphor and theatrics into the majority of his lyrics as well. Merritt's expertise is in incorporating a kind of walled off, NYC SoHo artsy vibe into painfully relatable and sad (and sometimes happy and romantic) lyrics. Not unlike Morrissey's british wit resting side by side with actual anguish and tragedy in his lyrics. The two of them are peas in a pod.

As for Merritt's music sounding like he does it in 10 minutes, I just have no idea what you're talking about. His compositional and orchestral arranging skills are clear, and his songs balance simplicity and complexity in intriguing ways. In fact Merritt rightfully criticized You Are The Quarry, lamenting that rock's "greatest lyricist" is saddled with uninspired arrangements, saying he wish they were more "thoughtful." He's correct.

Obviously you don't HAVE to like Merritt's music, but your specific criticisms of him don't make much sense to me. I even have my own problems with him. He's been terribly inconsistent for several albums now, and his songs have become too jokey. But they didn't used to be.
These are all very good lyrics and I see your point, but this doesn’t change the fact that he’s overall too cutesy, artsy and goofy and that songs like I Wish I Had an Evil Twin, Let’s Pretend We’re Bunny Rabbits and Punk Love (et al) sound like songs for children. I cringe at anyone over the age of 15 who claim that songs like these are good.
 

SqueezingMySkull

Active Member
These are all very good lyrics and I see your point, but this doesn’t change the fact that he’s overall too cutesy, artsy and goofy and that songs like I Wish I Had an Evil Twin, Let’s Pretend We’re Bunny Rabbits and Punk Love (et al) sound like songs for children. I cringe at anyone over the age of 15 who claim that songs like these are good.

Punk Love isn't really a song, it's kind of a quick gag. I'm not a fan of it and it's kind of a weird unfair one to single out, but on the other hand, he did put it on a major album.

Evil Twin has pretty music (that whole album does) and a nice melody but it's also not a favorite. How it sounds like a children's song, I'm baffled. A string section, it's quiet, slower tempo, gentle, etc? It's quite a sophisticated arrangement. What kids music do you listen to? I'd check that out.

Bunny Rabbits is a beautiful one, with funny and melancholy lyrics and a really inspired structure and arrangement, and a great uncharacteristically expressive vocal performance from Merritt. Ain't nothing wrong with thinking it's good :)

It is true, Merritt has been very uneven in the second half of his career. A lot of his songs are frustratingly unfunny gag songs, even entire albums are like this now. But I still think there's more great than bad, and the children's music angle just isn't clear to me. I generally find Magnetic Fields arrangements to be very unique and impressive. Or basically just like pop music with a twist.
 

Ketamine Sun

Now, today, tomorrow and always
69 Love Songs is a masterpiece. I'm not even sure how someone who doesn't like it can't even admit that it's quite a work. The creativity and songcraft on display is staggering.

Anyway, what is "witty and cute" about lyrics like:

"All the things you said you'd never say and you said anyway
The things we did and didn't do, the thing we did and didn't do
Come flooding back to me now"

or

I will stay if you let me stay
And I'll go if you let me go
But I won't go far away
Because you're my only home
And I will hide when you want hidden
And I'll roam if you say roam
But I just assume you didn't
Because you're my only home
When you cancel dinner plans
When you cross the street and you don't take my hand
When you make impossible demands
I wish I didn't understand

or

I've seen you laugh at nothing at all
I've seen you sadly weeping
The sweetest thing I ever saw
Was you asleep and dreaming

Well you may not be beautiful
But it's not for me to judge
I don't know if you're beautiful
Because I love you too much

I've seen you when your ship came in
And when your train was leaving
The sweetest thing I ever saw
Was you asleep and dreaming

or

or

Billie you're a miracle and God knows I need one
Sing me something terrible that even dawn may come
You and me, we don't believe in happy endings
Hey, Lady Day, can you save my life this time
Can you cry so beautifully you make my troubles rhyme
Hey, Lady Day, can you save my life again
My only love has gone away
Will you be my only friend
Billie you're a genius, enough to be a fool
a fool to gamble everything and never know the rules
Some of us can only live in songs of love and trouble
Some of us can only live in bubbles..

or

If I was the Grand Canyon
I'd echo everything you say
But I'm just me
I'm only me
And you used to love me that way
So you know how to love me that way.

Etc, etc. I could go on. Certainly Morrissey incorporates wit, metaphor and theatrics into the majority of his lyrics as well. Merritt's expertise is in incorporating a kind of walled off, NYC SoHo artsy vibe into painfully relatable and sad (and sometimes happy and romantic) lyrics. Not unlike Morrissey's british wit resting side by side with actual anguish and tragedy in his lyrics. The two of them are peas in a pod.

As for Merritt's music sounding like he does it in 10 minutes, I just have no idea what you're talking about. His compositional and orchestral arranging skills are clear, and his songs balance simplicity and complexity in intriguing ways. In fact Merritt rightfully criticized You Are The Quarry, lamenting that rock's "greatest lyricist" is saddled with uninspired arrangements, saying he wish they were more "thoughtful." He's correct.

Obviously you don't HAVE to like Merritt's music, but your specific criticisms of him don't make much sense to me. I even have my own problems with him. He's been terribly inconsistent for several albums now, and his songs have become too jokey. But they didn't used to be.

To each his own I guess.
 

Gregor Samsa

I straighten up, and my position is one of hope.
Punk Love isn't really a song, it's kind of a quick gag. I'm not a fan of it and it's kind of a weird unfair one to single out, but on the other hand, he did put it on a major album.

Evil Twin has pretty music (that whole album does) and a nice melody but it's also not a favorite. How it sounds like a children's song, I'm baffled. A string section, it's quiet, slower tempo, gentle, etc? It's quite a sophisticated arrangement. What kids music do you listen to? I'd check that out.

Bunny Rabbits is a beautiful one, with funny and melancholy lyrics and a really inspired structure and arrangement, and a great uncharacteristically expressive vocal performance from Merritt. Ain't nothing wrong with thinking it's good :)

It is true, Merritt has been very uneven in the second half of his career. A lot of his songs are frustratingly unfunny gag songs, even entire albums are like this now. But I still think there's more great than bad, and the children's music angle just isn't clear to me. I generally find Magnetic Fields arrangements to be very unique and impressive. Or basically just like pop music with a twist.
What I mean by ‘children’s songs’ is just that Merritt tends to make very cutesy and very twee indie pop songs with very cutesy and quirky lyrics. He’s a goofball. I can’t take him seriously. I never could. I understand if you like that stuff when you’re 14, but the fact that proper grown-ass human beings listen to this stuff unironically is unbelievable. To even name your songs stuff like “Let’s Pretend We’re Bunny Rabbits” or “Absolutely Cuckoo” is cringeworthy.
 

SqueezingMySkull

Active Member
What I mean by ‘children’s songs’ is just that Merritt tends to make very cutesy and very twee indie pop songs with very cutesy and quirky lyrics. He’s a goofball. I can’t take him seriously. I never could. I understand if you like that stuff when you’re 14, but the fact that proper grown-ass human beings listen to this stuff unironically is unbelievable. To even name your songs stuff like “Let’s Pretend We’re Bunny Rabbits” or “Absolutely Cuckoo” is cringeworthy.

Genuinely don't understand what you mean. I don't mean to drag this on, but it's one thing to say it's not for you, but you're basically saying I'm some sort of stupid baby for liking the Magnetic Fields and so is anyone else. It's a very weird take. They are just pop songs. As if Morrissey doesn't write songs with funny titles or quirky imagery. I don't find Merritt's lyrics particularly cutesy so it may be possible we both have different definitions of the same word. Absolutely Cuckoo is devastatingly relatable and musically sophisticated, and funny.

I like interesting pop music. I'm not gonna listen to bands singing about going dancing at the club or whatever. Merritt uses a lot of specific imagery and witticisms, similar to Morrissey, which is why I would think any fan of one would be a fan of the other.

Again, no one's telling you to like Merritt. But it's weird to say that anybody who does, including the person you are speaking to, is some sort of emotionally stunted idiot. Like if this conversation were happening in person, and someone said to you "I like his music", would you say that? I sometimes don't understand how people act on the internet.
 

Gregor Samsa

I straighten up, and my position is one of hope.
Genuinely don't understand what you mean. I don't mean to drag this on, but it's one thing to say it's not for you, but you're basically saying I'm some sort of stupid baby for liking the Magnetic Fields and so is anyone else. It's a very weird take. They are just pop songs. As if Morrissey doesn't write songs with funny titles or quirky imagery. I don't find Merritt's lyrics particularly cutesy so it may be possible we both have different definitions of the same word. Absolutely Cuckoo is devastatingly relatable and musically sophisticated, and funny.

I like interesting pop music. I'm not gonna listen to bands singing about going dancing at the club or whatever. Merritt uses a lot of specific imagery and witticisms, similar to Morrissey, which is why I would think any fan of one would be a fan of the other.

Again, no one's telling you to like Merritt. But it's weird to say that anybody who does, including the person you are speaking to, is some sort of emotionally stunted idiot. Like if this conversation were happening in person, and someone said to you "I like his music", would you say that? I sometimes don't understand how people act on the internet.
I can’t keep repeating myself. If you don’t understand or if we can’t agree, so be it. Time to move on.
And yeah, I would probably say pretty much the same thing in real life if I was asked what I think of Merritt’s music.
 
I have probably listened to 69 love songs more than any Morrissey album bar Vauxhall, Stephen is (was) an excellent lyricist and songwriter. Dont know how anyone could get the idea of calling it music for children, when its clearly very much adult themes written in a glorious, sarcastic way. Great guy, great songwriter.
 

Sandy Jay 1111

Mysterious 🤔
Are you joking?
He has never been in the f***ing closet. Jesus that guy has had more dick than a roomful of Richards
The amount of men and boys that made their way around to Camden is legend. The fact M has managed to make so many people think he isn't even bi, is crazy and it shows how desperate people are to have their heros fit their own lives
Evidence that though .🥴
 

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