Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Album review: THE MAGNETIC FIELDS - Love At The Bottom Of The Sea

Highlights: Andrew In Drag, God Wants Us To Wait, I’d Go Anywhere With Hugh, All She Cares About Is Mariachi

Well (making an inevitable allusion here), the new Magnetic Fields album is 15 love songs, and this time the gimmicks are as follows: each track is under three minutes (and what can beat a good Stephin Merritt song under 3 minutes?); cartoonish vocals; the love stories behind these songs are decidedly, deliberately quirky. Imagine Sparks’ Exotic Creatures Of The Deep, but filtered through the Magnetic Fields aesthetic.

But by far the most important gimmick is the songs’ presentation. With this album Merritt clearly tries to get away from the much-maligned (I’d say unjustly) folk-ish, acoustic sound of his more recent albums. On Love At The Bottom Of The Sea The Magnetic Fields return to the whimsical, keyboard-based sound of their pre-69 Love Songs years. A move every true and dedicated fan would appreciate.

And it is indeed a lovely sound. Catchy little pop songs, too. Quirky but occasionally witty lyrics. As for the latter, the two most notable examples are “Andrew In Drag”, an impossibly infectious and twisted tale of accidentally falling in love with a boy, and that cynical and hilariously arranged ditty with the unforgettable chorus “I love you, baby, but God wants us to wait”. You can figure out what that one is about. There’s also the wistful, romantic “I’d Go Anywhere With Hugh”, the trashy and almost moronically catchy “My Husband’s Pied-a-Terre”, the dramatically crooned “I’ve Run Away To Join The Fairies”, etc. Overall sort of hit and miss. The bad thing is that hits are rarely particularly overwhelming, but the good thing is that the misses are all short and have decent (if throwawayish) melodies all the same. Which makes Love At The Bottom Of The Sea a perfectly charming but slight affair. Could use a little more effort from Merritt.

Well, see how loyal you are. If you believe that even a bad Magnetic Fields song is still a good song (because you can’t deny Merritt’s taste), you’re going to love this stuff. While I tend to more or less agree with this idea, there’s no question that a lesser Stephin Merritt song is, well, a lesser Stephin Merritt song. A 7 here, but I can see why one would wish to go lower.


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