The Magnetic Fields – Distortion

I may be a man with a headache, but that’s not gonna stop me from saying from things about this album. Moreover, it’s not gonna stop me from making some words about it, either.
Every stupid Magnetic Fields album has to havea stupid “concept” behind it, usually benign, but this time the conceit is that it’s a “rock” album with distorted guitars. Get it???? Yes, the Merritt man is clever like that. Unfortunately, the Merritt man doesn’t really understand what rock music is, so every song just has a whirring electric uitar making identical noise behind it. Every single one, for every single second. Maybe some of the tuneless distortion sounds slightly different in timbre, but for the most part it’s like a regular album with the sound of a cement mixer somewhere back there. Now don’t get me too wrong, I kinda like the sound of a cement mixer behind my tunes. On a scale of not rock’n’roll to rock’n’roll, it’s pretty rock’n’roll, but ye gods man, not identically for forty minutes. But okay, it’s neat some of the time.
Secondly, putting a rock thing behind a slow sad bastard show tune does not make it a rock song. And I don’t think Stephin Merritt is really into making rock songs – I think he’s prefer to make show tunes for guys in capes to belt out on stage. And here maybe six of the thirteen songs fit that description, and I don’t care for any of them except “I’ll Dream Alone”. And one other song is a “surf rock” song that’s way too slow to describe anything other than getting to the beach and finding that it’s all muddy and then it starts to rain and your friends are fat and you try to have fun anyway but it’s not fooling anyone.
This is all mitigated pretty well by the fact that the remaining four songs are stone cold classics. The completely out-of-character angry rant “California GIrls” is a genuine rock song and clever, fun, and amusing in addition to just pissed-off (at the media) (which is great in itself). “Please Stop Dancing” might be stupid and a show tune but ‘sblood if that dumb bass line doesn’t get stuck in my head forever. “Drive On Driver” is the other functionally normal rock song, and it features two ridiculous wonderful moments: a completely unnecessary throaty scream three seconds in, and a high note in the chorus that’s so beautiful it makes me see god. “Too Drunk To Dream” features a forty-second intro that’s maybe the best paean to getting shit-faced I’ve heard this year before launching into another genuinely rock’n’roll number punctuated with half-second feedback squeals that are the cat’s ass. “The Nun’s Litany” is another great lyric, and “Courtesans” is nice, too.
So there you go. A bunch of great songs, a slightly larger bunch of terrible ones, and a gimmick that makes listening to them all at once pretty terrible. But great for mix tapes! I’m torn between a six and seven, but the gestalt of this album is pretty rough, even if I’m happier that it exists than I am about most sevens I give. Ah fuck it, it’s a seven!
Also, Merritt only sings half the songs, and the silky female vocalist sings funny half of them. And a lot of them are about sex. Those are things.

7 / 10

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