The Magnetic Fields Distortion Review

Released 2008.  

BBC Review

It's never less than fascinating, but not something you'd return to again and again...

Chris Jones 2008

Seemingly Stephin Merritt, the brains (and virtually the entire musical brawn) behind The Magnetic Fields cannot commit music to tape without having some kind of concept to hang it all on. His previous effort, i, featured songs that began with the selfsame letter, while 69 Love Songs was exactly what it said it was, stretched over three discs. It's almost as though Merritt's like some post-modern Todd Rundgren. A maverick so bored with his own innate abilities that he has to rouse himself with some kind of weird self-inflicted challenge.

Distortion, as the title hints, attempts to recreate the halcyon days of the Jesus And Mary Chain, circa Psychocandy. The difference is, of course, that although the Reid brothers may have been iconoclasts of the first water, they never had Merritt's god-given gift for song writing. The two strands make for unlikely bedfellows. Like Gershwin drenched in feedback in Phil Spector's echo chamber, each of these songs is a lyrically barbed (and sexually charged) exercise in melodic subversion. It's a partially successful experiment. The opener, "Three-Way" is a jaunty near-instrumental that puts one in mind more of the avant pop of another 80s outfit, The Associates. yet when Merritt gets out his mannered baritone on songs like "Mr Mistletoe" it's a little like hearing a hardcore Divine Comedy. It's clever but not ultimately satisfying for the soul.

Perhaps the trouble is the Goth/reverb overkill. Certainly "Too Drunk To Dream"'s celebration of intoxication is a hilarious evocation of Spector's Big Apple pop in the service of modern hedonism and "Please Stop Dancing"'s guitars are a real visceral thrill. But too often you sense that under the sheen of pastiche lies some wonderful craft that would benefit from clarity, not fuzztone mayhem. It's never less than fascinating, but not something you'd return to again and again...

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