Unreleased material can be of two main types: songs so good they should have been recorded for the regular albums but were inexplicably left off (Jefferson Airplane’s Early Flight, for instance) and songs that have this inevitably throwawayish, unambitious, second-rate aspect to them and can only be enjoyed with your expectations significantly lowered. And while Stephin Merritt’s newly released Obscurities certainly belongs to the latter category, there’s still a lot to be said for these tunes.
First of all, if you consider what a prolific songwriter Stephin Merritt is, 14 obscurities seem barely enough. Secondly, if you care for Merritt at all, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t get this record and enjoy it for what it is worth. Most of the man’s numerous projects and offshoots are presented here: the quirky, romantic drama of The Magnetic Fields; decent odds and ends of Stephin’s solo career (more of the same); playful, twee-tinged loveliness of The 6ths; filler-ish, disjointed charm of Merritt’s self-styled ‘goth-bubblegum’ band The Gothic Archies. There’s even a gorgeous acoustic ballad recorded by a Buffalo Rome ‘Plant White Roses’ that has one of the set’s most memorable melodies.
Still, there are songs here that would have graced certain albums from Merritt’s colourful, highly productive career. The synths-based B-side ‘Rats In The Garbage Of A Western World’ would have been a highlight on any of The Magnetic Fields’ pre-1999 albums, while the half-baked, gently crooned ballad ‘Forever And A Day’ wouldn’t have been out of place on 69 Love Songs (but then of course: it would have ruined the whole concept). Better still is The 6ths’ catchy, timeless-sounding pop of ‘Yet Another World’.
All in all, a trifle for Stephin Merritt. Something he could write for breakfast or during the soundcheck. Just a solid, nice-sounding collection of songs that maybe won’t set the world on fire, but still make Obscurities a trifle worth hearing.
Released on 5th September 2011 by Domino Records