50 Song Memoir is as much the story of Stephin Merritt’s life as it is a love letter to song. It is a certifiable masterpiece and one that music lovers ‘round the world will not soon forget.
By virtue of its lyrical openness and the fact that the album cycles through more than 100 instruments, 50 Song Memoir, despite having fewer tracks, eclipses 69 Love Songs in terms of its ambition. And though it lacks its predecessor’s immediate accessibility, it benefits from an aesthetic texture that’s grander, darker, and more satisfying, if only for the sense that memoirs don’t have to be confessional; they can tell a life’s story through tone and structure in addition to words.
What lingers, along with the musical brilliance and uncharacteristic openness of his 50 Song Memoir, is Merritt's humour; his distinctive baritone delivering countless witty sardonic kernels, sometimes assisted by a well-timed dramatic pause, all wrapped up in catchy, unforgettable songs.
There are very few working songwriters who could have pulled off this sort of a project this well, and even fewer who could make this giant-sized song cycle feel so intimate and accessible. 50 Song Memoir is a rare example of Stephin Merritt offering a look into his offstage life, but just as importantly it's a reminder of why he's a truly great songwriter, and this ranks with his finest work.