It’s just as good as 69 Love Songs.
Isn’t that what we all want to hear?
That now that The Magnetic Fields are back on Merge Records in the US (Domino here in the UK) and reunited with their synth-crackle-pop sound, Stephin Merritt and co have created an album just as satisfying as 69 from 99?
Unfortunately, the upshot of producing a collection of songs as endearingly droll-yet-poignant as that three-disc set that spun right round in my CD player for months on end, is that even a good album like Love At The Bottom Of The Sea is going to make a phenomenal band sound almost derivative of itself—which is the long way of saying it all sounds somewhat diminished.
Amongst the 15 tapas-style tracks (none reaches the three-minute mark) there are some really great tunes where the lyricism and the musicianship recall the giddy glory of 69 Love Songs days, including ‘Andrew In Drag’, a wistful tale of star-crossed, cross-dressed desire, ‘God Wants Us To Wait’, which perfectly and hilariously captures how abstinence makes the heart go yonder and ‘Machine In Your Hand’, an offering that’s simultaneously a song about unrequited love and our admitted addiction to smartphones. ‘Infatuation With Your Gyration’ has a great little 80s-homage dance chorus and ‘The Only Boy In Town’ is by far the cleverest possible answer to the hypothetical question: “But what if I were the last guy on earth?”
Most of the other songs are undeniably witty—for example, take ‘All She Cares About Is Mariachi’ (How many words can you rhyme with mariachi? Yeah good, now try constructing a winsome narrative out of them) and the opener ‘Your Girlfriend’s Face’, a bouncy number about a contract killing that manages to put the “pop” in “pop a cap in your ass.” But some of it is fairly forgettable, despite the adept songwriting.
Having said that, in comparison to the Magnetic Fields’ last three non-synth albums i (2004), Distortion (2008), and Realism (2010), this one has far more pull. Merritt’s recognisably resonant baritone and Claudia Gonson and Shirley Simms’ contrasting vocals are ably offset by the electronics.
I think what ultimately what I was hoping for and what I’m missing from this record is some of the more plaintive moments we found on 69—the twisted earnestness of a ‘Papa Was A Rodeo’ or ‘Nothing Matters When We’re Dancing’. This album is perhaps less ironic and more smirky, but then “love at the bottom of the sea” is undoubtedly murky.
So all in all, this review may not be the news we wanted to hear… but it’s still an album you’ll want to hear.
Released on 5th March 2012 by Domino Records