Friday, June 25, 2010

Music Library: The Magnetic Fields

The general consensus on Stephin Merritt is that he's the Cole Porter of our times, meaning that he is witty, gay, catchy, witty (did I mention that one already?), and gay.  And catchy.  Boy howdy, are his songs catchy.

Distant Plastic Trees (1990).  The first of two albums recorded with original vocalist Susan Anway, this is a synthpop album recorded with cheap-ass keyboards and a cheap-ass drum machine.  Some of the songs are among Merritt's best, especially "100,000 Fireflies."

The Wayward Bus (1991). Almost of a piece with Distant Plastic Trees, this one also features Anway, the cheap-ass instrumentation, and more of Merritt's obsession with Phil Spector and early Beach Boys.  Now only available as a two-parter with the previous album.

The House of Tomorrow (1996). Stephin Merritt on lead vocals.  Five songs built on loops and synth-pop. 

Holiday (1994).  The Allmusic review is right to connect this with the Future Bible Heroes albums.  Anway is gone, Merritt is the primary singer, and the album is pure 80s-style electropop.  Good songs, although not as good as on future releases.

Charm of the Highway Strip (1994). A concept album about roads and travel that is seemingly built on themes from country music (although it is still as electropoppy as its predecessor).    

Get Lost (1995). Kind of a step backwards, this is my least favorite Magnetic Fields album.

69 Love Songs (1999). This one is the motherlode, three discs of love songs, some sublime, some stupid.  You could - if you were like me - make a full single disc of perfect songs, but the unevenness of the three disc experience has its own charms.  There's songs from many different genres, but all feature Merritt's sardonic wit and deep well of emotion.

i (2004).  Only fourteen songs this time, all starting with the letter "I."  No synthesizers.  And it's almost as strong as 69 Love Songs.  My favorite is the disco tune "I Thought You Were My Boyfriend."

Distortion (2008). But this one's only ok.  There's a couple of great songs, but I think the gimmick is a little too over-the-top for the material.  The gimmick is that everything is distorted as hell, inspired by the fuzzy pop of the Jesus & Mary Chain.


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