The Magnetic Fields- Distortion (Nonesuch)

Featured — By on February 27, 2008 at 6:39 pm

In 1999, The Magnetic Fields released an ambitious three disc set called 69 Love Songs that, true to its name, contained 69 canciones de amor. Critics swooned over the Fields’ twisted Brill Building sensibilities and the sheer moxie of Magnetic mastermind Stephin Merritt, launching 69 onto many “Ten Best” lists that year. While hipster chubs everywhere have finally started to soften, Merritt and Co. have just released their eighth album (counting 69 as one), Distortion. Seldom has a record sounded (in a production sense) so single-mindedly derivative of another record. It sounds to the trained ear as if Merritt has been listening to nothing but Psychocandy by The Jesus & Mary Chain for the last four years or so. No, the songs, at their essence, are not Mary Chain rip-off’s per se (as The Mary Chain themselves were ripping off The Beach Boys and girl groups), but sonically speaking, Distortion owes a lot to them. Reverb, feedback, and yes, distortion are simply everywhere on the album, giving the listener the impression that they are either listening to it (a.) in a busy factory, or (b.) Buffalo Bill’s basement in The Silence Of The Lambs. It makes for uneasy listening and it is best processed in bite size portions- the album as a whole can wear the listener down. As expected, Stephen Merritt’s warbly, drunken Iggy croon is present on about half of the tracks, but the primo material is sung by co-vocalist Shirley Simms. Case in point: “California Girls.” No, it’s not a twisted Brian Wilson/surf-pop tribute a la The Mary Chain’s classic “Kill Surf City”, but a scathing smear of SoCal starlets and socialites. While they make for easy targets, it’s still noteworthy when someone can write a truly memorable song about such vapid human waste. Lyrics are clever and snide throughout the album (“I gotta get too drunk to dream because I only dream of you”, etc.), but the overall avant-production veneer may scare off many potential converts to The Magnetic Fields’ acid cabaret style. Can you pass the test? Dive into Distortion to find out.

RATING (1-10): 5

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