16 January, 2008

When Things Get Messy

The Magnetic Fields is the main outlet of musical genius Stephin Merritt (Gothic Archies, the 6ths, and the bizarre and beautiful Orphan Of Zhao soundtrack). If you've listened to any of Merritt's music, then you know that it's completely unclassifiable and amazing. 69 Love Songs is an album that's exactly what it claims and so much more. The song "All My Little Words" has to be one of my all-time favorite love songs, and since love songs make up a huge percentage of the musical catalog, I would say that's saying something. Even though I'm not reviewing 69 Love Songs in this post, I'm going to share the full lyrics of "All My Little Words", just because they make the world a little more beautiful.

You are a splendid butterfly
It is your wings that make you beautiful
and I could make you fly away
but I could never make you stay
You said you were in love with me
Both of us know that that's impossible
and I could make you rue the day
but I could never make you stay
Not for all the tea in China
not if I could sing like a bird
not for all North Carolina
not for all my little words
not if I could write for you the sweetest song you ever heard
It doesn't matter what I do
not for all my little words
Now that you've made me want to die
you tell me that you're unboyfriendable
and I could make you pay and pay
but I could never make you stay...

Isn't that fantastic?

Well, now that I have your attention lovely blog readers, I want to talk about the latest Magnetic Fields album: Distortion. It sounds like something that would come out of a Seattle grunge band's repertoire, and this album is incredibly heavy, fuzzy, and altogether distorted, but it isn't grungey at all.

"Three Way" starts the album off with a Beach Boys underwater feel. It's kinda groggy, but still upbeat. It's the second track - "California Girls" - that's the first song to really make me smile. It's far from another musical celebration of well-endowed blondes who spend their free-time tanning, in fact it's a declaration of pure hatred for girls who buy into the body-image hype and dumb themselves down for their California boys. Refreshingly bitter, and the fact that it's delivered like an unholy mix of Cheap Trick and Supertramp just makes me smile even wider. "Old Fools" is the first song to truly sound like the Magnetic Fields, and maybe this is because Stephin Merritt's undeniably lachrymose voice is all over this track. The song is also down-tempo, slow and steady with chiming background bells and ghostly apparitions of carnival piano. The next song that really strikes a chord with me (badump bump, ahahahah) is "Please Stop Dancing", which could very easily have been a 1980s club hit if it hadn't been made in the 2000s. "Drive On, Driver" follows with cooing lyrics and the melody of a haphazard lullaby. It's quite charming in an extremely messy way, and that's really how I would describe this whole album: a charming mess.

Given the revealing nature of the title, I will assume that Distortion was an extremely premeditated mess, and one that will not be cleaned up anytime soon. I don't mind this mess at all, because I've found, after many years of careful listening, that Stephin Merritt's music is always great. The disorderly piles of sound that emerge from his work with the Magnetic Fields are just more places where Merritt's profound sound can be experienced, and they are all the more interesting for their cluttered exteriors.

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