Just a 36-minute long Madonna cover. Pass.
For reasons I’ve yet to suss out, music critics go absolutely grapenuts about early Magnetic Fields. I mean, I get that the songwriting is uber clever, and white guys with ironic shirts are predisposed to twee aesthetics, but golly, describing The Charm of the Highway Strip as the #1 pop album of all time? Giving this album 8.8/10? I don’t get it! And I’m pretty sure that nobody actually plays these albums at their parties, because that’d make for the lamest party soundtrack since Sum 41 was popular. Maybe it’s because I like to connect emotionally with music before I can love it? I certainly love Bolero a lot more having known the nuttiness that went into it.
But, but but: there’s no fucking way this is one of the best albums of all time! The 22 second opener is neat, and the bookends, “Desert Island” and “Take Ecstasy With Me” are fucking fantastic pop songs, but in-between are 11 quite normal verse-chorus-verse pop songs with smarter-than-average lyrics played on cheap keyboards as if it was the 1970s and Stephin Merritt was the second incarnation of Kraftwerk and had just figured out that it’s possible to make sounds without human playing them. Listen to that pretend hi-hat sound on “Desert Island”! It wants to be a hi-hat so bad but it can’t make it, because it’s a stupid keyboard! Not that keyboards don’t have their place, and at least he’s invested in a couple fancier ones this time around, but music critic guys: if Jesus Christ saw the way you glorify these albums he’d shit himself.
And they’re all just love songs! And I get that that’s TMF’s thing, but it precludes a lot of the human experience from getting in. On their own merits, bickering about instruments aside, these are not the most fantastic songs ever, bookends excluded. Most of them flit by without making any great impression other than “that’s the one with the fake harp sound. That’s the one with all the arpeggios. That’s the one with the line about more stars than prostitutes in Thailand.” Dem bookends, though! “Take Ecstasy With Me” in particular is a force of beautiful romanticism modernized by drug use, and if it doesn’t make you want to get all lubed up to dance in your town’s gay village then I don’t know what will. And it’s not even a dance song!
Maybe that’s the point I was reaching for above – these aren’t songs to accompany anything other than sitting and listening to music. And that’s a fair enough pursuit, even if I like my songs to be good for more than that I also enjoy a good sitting and music-thinking. But come on, “Sugar World” and “In My Secret Place” and “Torn Green Velvet Eyes” (aside from the neat-o opening “guitar” riff) are filler, and they’re among others. All praise due to the songs that are great, and “Uncle Steve” is certainly able to produce them, but this is his second album in one year, and there’s only a couple of classics here amidst a lot of just passable material.
6 / 10