The Magnetic Fields – The Charm of the Highway Strip
Merge, 1994 (2008 Reissue)
Acquired: Love Garden, New, 2008
This was the first Magnetic Fields record I ever heard, and the one responsible for my falling in love with the work of Stephin Merritt. “Born on the Train” is not only the best song he's ever written, but one of the best songs by anyone anywhere at anytime. It's that good. I distinctly remember listening to this while driving to California in the Summer of 2005, specifically driving to LA from Las Vegas at midnight. There was something romantic about that. The passengers asleep, driving with a long stretch of road ahead of me to the ocean. Yes, these songs are about highways. Or transit. Or the west. Or cowboys, like “Two Characters in Search of a Country Song,” my second favorite track on the record. It's a showcase of vocal lines and Merritt's almost bubbly synth arrangements. The only problem with this record is that it's a bit top heavy. The B-side is, with the exception of “Fear of Trains” and MAYBE “Sunset City,” pretty forgettable. That is, it's pretty, but forgettable.
This cover of "Born on a Train" by the Arcade Fire is pretty excellent.