An illustrious musical career can produce a number of pleasing side-effects, not the least of which is a sort of fame that comes only with the field. More entertaining for all involved, though, is the ubiquitous rarities album that peppers careers and gives devoted fans a bit of a treat. Stephin Merritt’s Obscurities is exactly that: a nice topping on an already very good career.
Hearing any number of Magnetic Fields albums doesn’t quite get at the same idea as listening to this almost haphazard collection of Stephin Merritt-penned tracks — the music’s there, sure, and that odd sense of timing and lyrical inventiveness collide in the mess that you’d expect from an album of, well, obscurities.
If you’re in the market for something that departs from Merritt’s mode of songwriting, walk away now. This runs the gamut of his musical continuum, jumping between his acoustic jangling and his electronic-beat-ridden pop, and on average landing somewhere around the mid-career pop tunes that have given him a household name in the world of indie pop.
As with most collections of unreleased (or only released in a limited sense) songs, expecting glimmering production would be ill-advised. The production (or lack thereof) is sometimes drowning and sometimes drying, so it does take a fair bit of concentration to make it through everything. Merritt fans should have little problem though, as this is a fairly exciting collection of pieces from various projects.
Obscurities includes three tracks from Merritt’s collaborative science fiction musical with Daniel Handler of Lemony Snickett fame — the connection between the two is well-documented — as well as others from Merritt projects The Gothic Archies, The 6ths, and proto-Magnetic Fields outfit Buffalo Rome.
It’s not entirely necessary, sure, and it’s not going to be essential listening for new fans, but it’s a classy retrospective on Merritt’s songwriting prowess.