THE MAGNETIC FIELDS – “I’ve Got New York” (Live MP3)
Of all the curious things about Stephin Merritt, one of the most curious is the way he keeps back songs which, if they were to reach a wider audience, would run an excellent chance of becoming standards. I’m not saying “I’ve Got New York”, or “Kissing Things”, or “Movie Star” or “He Didn’t” or “As You Turn To Go” are any better than the material which has won him such a devoted indiepop following, but they are among the most perfectly crafted things he’s ever written: succinct, immediate and bittersweet workings through of ideas, coming in around the two minute mark. Maybe the audience for this kind of material is so tiny now that it’s simply not worth releasing them to the same half-hearted general regard that’s greeted his other records. (Rather than sniffing at the Magnetic Fields for releasing something as contrived as a 69-song boxed set, we should deplore the tedious and constrained pop landscape that forces a songwriter as extraordinary as Merritt to resort to stunts like that in the first place.)

On this bootleg, Merritt groans out the song’s intro with unspeakable weariness, then perks up slightly for the verses (caution: such things are relative). But he still sounds like he’s singing to himself, which is perfect for a song which finds its singer wandering the city, shifting from bon mots to expressions of utter loneliness with a heavy awareness that each is as futile as the other. “Got all New York to be lonely in / I’ve got cigarettes and I’ve got gin” he sings, the crowd laugh knowingly, and he continues “And though I feel just like I’ve got no skin / I’ve got New York, and the winter wind.” It’s wonderful: try to hear it.