The first thing that hits you about 69 Love Songs, before you even hear the first note of the music is the scale of the damn thing. Three CDs. Three hours of music on one theme. A big statement that sits between your Magic Numbers and Manic Street Preachers albums. It takes some nerve to offer up this many songs in one sitting, as most acts struggle to put a dozen decent tunes on one album, and then along trundles Stephin Merritt and offers up almost six times that amount, leaving the rest of us open-mouthed with disbelief. Then you think about it, surely love is a big enough subject to deserve a big statement like 69 Love Songs. If there’s one things that everyone needs in their life, it’s love.
69 Love Songs does its best to mirror all aspects of love, from the hormonal rush of meeting a new partner for the first time, the excitement of establishing a relationship, the trust and comfort of a stable relationship and the pleasure of growing old disgracefully with your life partner. It also accurately displays the down side of love as well. The painful splits, the rejections, the realisation that the object of your affection is monogamously challenged, partners who make unreasonable demands, the yearning for a former partner who has long since moved on, the painful divorces and the inescapable truth that the one person you want to spend the rest of your life with doesn’t want to spend the rest of their life with you.
Like love, 69 Love Songs isn’t perfect. It’s contrary, it changes its mood too often, it wanders off in directions you don’t expect it to and it can sometimes leave you frustrated and bewildered. It can also lift you to unexpected heights, makes you smile like an idiot, it stirs up intense feelings of rapture, makes you feel better about yourself and leaves you thinking about nothing else. Over the three CDs 69 Love Songs takes you on one hell of an emotional rollercoaster ride. Just like love.
Nevertheless, it’s the flaws of 69 Love Songs which I love about it, just as it’s often the flaws of our partners that make us fall in love with them – Anyone who claims that their partner is perfect either doesn’t know their partner very well or is lying. But it’s those personal idiosyncrasies that make our loved ones so special, just as it’s the odd little moments that makes 69 Love Songs so special. Yes they may drive us to distraction on occasion, but if they didn’t do it, it just wouldn’t be right, infact one of the best things about the album is the fact that not all the songs are straight forward. There are love songs to pets, music and guitars, there are songs from the point of view of women sung by men and their are songs about women sung by other women. This brilliant song-by-song gender-bending only goes to make 69 Love Songs an even more fascinating and joyous listen. In the words of XTC “Any kind of love is alright”. Love is a vast and complex concept and we can never hope to understand all aspects of it, but it’s vital to us all that we both give and receive this most powerful of emotions.
For all it’s sterile and cold packaging, there are few albums as honest and believable as 69 Love Songs. The music itself is often basic and minimal, the vocalists aren’t technically brilliant (always a bonus on the sincerity scale. The better a vocalist is, the harder it is to believe in what they are singing) and the lyrics are written in a way that makes them instantly understandable, yet they are still miniature works of wonder. All of this without having to resort to the power ballad. With sixty nine songs to choose from, there are inevitably some that you appreciate more than others, but for me the only clunker is “Love Is Like Jazz”. That’s one below-par track and sixty eight good-to-transcendent ones, proving that sometimes the bad moments are worth it for all the good ones. Just like love.
When you let 69 Love Songs into your heart, it starts to accompany you as you go about your daily life, you remember snippets of tunes and lyrics that raise your pulse and put a spring in your step. Eventually you realise that it has become a vital part of your life, even though you can’t comprehend how vast and complex it is. It’s sprawling, all encompassing, there are elusive aspects of it that infuriate you, but there are also sides of it that you can’t possibly hope to understand and you just accept as part of the deal. As I journey through this life, inching my way up the property ladder, endlessly pursuing promotions at work, basking in the warmth of friendship and amassing a music collection to leave my friends and family when I do finally kick the bucket, I listen to 69 Love Songs and I reach one inescapable conclusion – The only thing in this life really worth giving a damn about is love.