Rantings, reviews and lists from a person who structures half his life around obsessing over music.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Magnetic Fields - Distortion (2008)

3.5 ★/7.0 - 7.9

By now, we should be keenly aware of Stephen Merritt's laziness when it comes to album titles. 69 Love Songs was literally 69 songs about love, i was a bunch of songs starting with the letter I, and Distortion is...well...distorted...for the entirety of the album. Think Jesus And Mary Chain style screeching noise and reverb drums blanketing syrupy pop hooks and you've pretty much heard this album. But as generic as some of these songs are ("Till The Bitter End", "Mr. Misletoe" and "California Girls" could've been cut), it's still nice to see Magnetic Fields forge an actual album. Their last two works supposedly had concepts behind them, but musically there was absolutely no connection between any of their songs. i hardly had an identity in and of itself; it might as well have been called 14 More Love Songs. Distortion at least benefits from having a recognizable sound and unity amongst it's tracks. Oh and also from the catchy melodies, as usual. "Three Way" sounds like a shoegazer update to the opener of David Bowie's Low. The quirky "Xavier Says" and kinky "The Nun's Litany" are beaming with exuberance. "Old Fools" is just plain gorgeous, nearly rivaling the heartbreaking closer, "Courtesans", while "Drive On Driver" is a festive square dance slowed down and led by a whirlwind of guitar and synths.

From Santa Clause and Miseltoe mentions to it's romantically twinkling haze, Distortion is a traditionally dull Christmas album at heart. Most of the songs' whimsy and even some of the melodies fit in comfortably right next to well known carols. But what makes it worthwhile is how Stephen Merrit, with his cynical whiskey soaked approach to otherwise joyful pop anthems, refuses to conform to the cliche heartwarming standards of most winter jingles. When you hear him morosely hollering on the acapella intro of "Too Drunk to Dream", "sober life is a prison, shit faced it is a blessing," you know this isn't quite the holiday cd of choice for family gatherings (unless your family contains alcoholics and a nun who's aspiring to be a topless waitress). It's quintessentially Magnetic Fields, and well, that's saying something.

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