So we got married in Venice in June69 Love Songs The title is intended as a joke, yes. The number isn't exactly random. But there are sixty-nine songs. To be more specific it's a three disc set with twenty-three songs apiece. Okay, "song" might be stretching it in a couple of places. And of the ones that are songs, not all are necessarily good. "Meaningless" lives up to its title. Still, it's a monumental accomplishment.
We circled the Earth in a hot air balloon
and the rest of our lives
is one long honeymoon
well, that doesn't mean we're in love
If you really loved me
you'd buy me a beautiful pearl
but you've already bought me
all of the pearls in the world
so there's one thing I crave
when my days become ho-hum and blah
I want a zebra
We've got so many tchotchkes
we've practically emptied the Louvre
In most of our palaces
there's hardly room to manoeuvre
I shan't go to Bali today
I must stay home and Hoovre
up the gold dust
That doesn't mean we're in love
If you really loved me
you'd buy me the Great Pyramid
Oh, I'm so forgetful, you already did
But there's one think I need
if you won't think I'm greedy, my dear
Zelda looks lonely, I want a zebra
Are they actually all love songs? Well, not all straight-ahead ones, and I think I can say that with some relief. They all touch on love. With a lot of cynicism and detachment, and not a little surrealism. Same-sex marriage wasn't a legal option in 1999, but I don't think legal marginalization accounts for why Stephen Merritt takes a skew approach to the subject, at least not directly. As far as the actual reasons go, for one thing, that many unironic love songs in one sitting could be pretty mind-numbing. Also, love doesn't always mean what it's supposed to mean. In many cases it means that a person has moved beyond "fuck you, I've got mine" to "fuck you, we've got ours."
And here, galloping through a veldt of absurdity, comes "Zebra." It's a spare recording. Claudia Gonson sings, and might be playing the very minimal drums. (She's the drummer, as a rule.) If I had to guess I'd say that Merritt is playing the harmonium or the like while Daniel Handler plays accordion. Yes, Lemony Snicket is a friend and associate of the band.
The lyrics are a burlesque of a wealthy person whose only desire is to have more, more, more. It's sort of like a New Yorker cartoon of the filthy rich. There's a certain innocence to it as well. Buying pyramids and letting wild animals roam the halls of your mansion is a child's idea of what it's like to be rich. Or it was. Children may be more sophisticated now. Gonson's phrasing is fully in character, conveying the ennui of the sitcom socialite.
In "The Death of Ferdinand de Saussure", another song from disc 3 of 69 Love Songs, the pioneering philosopher of language throws his hands up and declares "We don't know anything, I don't know anything about love." In ending the project with "Zebra" Merritt seems to be admitting the truth of this statement. There's not going to be any grand closing statement here, which is a kind of statement in itself. And there are hints on how to spot a gold digger.