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27th February 2012

Album: Magnetic Fields – Love at the Bottom of the Sea

Magnetic Fields – at their best when the synths take a back seat.

Magnetic Fields
Love at the Bottom of the Sea
Merge Records
3 stars

Love at the Bottom of the Sea, Magnetic Fields’ first album to be released since the end of the “no-synth trilogy” of the last three releases, is a confused, occasionally brilliant romp of an album. In a record that lasts little more than half an hour, Stephin Merritt’s group throw together fifteen songs of varying quality in a maelstrom of manic creativity. This ramshackle approach produces an album which is undeniably enjoyable, albeit marred by irritating moments of contrived kookiness.

Perhaps the album’s inconsistencies can be attributed to a hangover from the synth-less period which produced records as accomplished as Distortion. Indeed, the new album’s opening track, ‘Your Girlfriend’s Face’, seems overly keen to return the band to the electronic territory of their earlier work. The song sees Merritt’s fine vocals overpowered by garish synthesizers, a problem which reoccurs later in ‘The Machine in Your Hand’. Merritt, a songwriter usually renowned for his wit and charm, also lets down his redoubtable baritone delivery with some poor lyrics. On ‘The Horrible Party’, for example, he pleads with the listener to “Take me away from this horrible party and I will give you some money”. After considering the song’s ridiculous oom-pah rhythm, they may be tempted to prolong his suffering.

Despite these flaws, the album nevertheless offers a number of examples of Merritt’s mercurial talent. ‘God Wants us to Wait’ is a sharp satire on Christian chastity, while ‘Andrew In Drag’ evokes David Bowie while inverting sexual politics. The band’s synths are deployed most skilfully in ‘My Husband’s Pied-A-Terre’, where the track bursts unexpectedly into life after a beguiling opening. However, the album’s outstanding moment is ‘The Only Boy in Town’, a delightfully poppy number which is good enough to bring The Beach Boys to mind. This surf-influenced track is perhaps the most compelling evidence that Magnetic Fields are at their best when the synths take a back seat.

UK release date: March 5th 2012

Magnetic Fields – Andrew In Drag

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