A 3-disc gimmick record which its vain creator admits was designed to attract music writers? It sounds simply ghastly, my dears. Mind you, credit where it’s due: the Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs has certainly done its job: all the pop poseurs at Freaky Trigger were falling over themselves to review it, praise it, even just mention it (quite a leap from Britney to a THREE HOUR CONCEPT ALBUM, eh boys?). And in the wider world of real zines that people read, the gushing was even more extreme. (If I see the phrase “Spin magazine’s coveted 10/10 rating” one more time, I will stab the writer with a four-inch heel: coveted by who? Korn?)

Anyway, aesthetically, it’s a dud. Gimmicky concept, gimmicky lyrics, gimmicky instrumentation. Look, I’m no fan of meat-and-potatoes band lineups, but when you’re confronted with sounds as weedy and reedy as the Fields’, you can’t help but which they’d ditch the fucking banjo and do something with a bit of oomph. If you buy the box set, you get a booklet in which Stephin Merritt and some intellectual pal of his spend seventy pages discussing how clever each individual track is: someone should stage it as a play and cause a riot. And the conceit that this set somehow encompasses all of 20th century song is farcical (Has Stephin Merritt ever even heard a punk record?). It’s like saying They Might Be Giants or Weird Al encompass all of 20th century music because they can knock out piss-weak pastiches of some of it on their ukeleles.

But the worst thing about 69 Love Songs is the way it even debases its chosen topic. There’s not one track here which sounds heartfelt, nothing that could give you any comfort in a break up, nothing which could express love’s naivety or bliss: as love songs, these are literally useless. Mechanistic and solipsistic, they sound like sixty-nine math exercises, long sneers at love from a cold man sitting in a bar pretending he’s Cole Porter. Which is precisely what they are.