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  • Distortion
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    Magnetic Fields

    69 Love Songs 9 ( 2000 )
    Absolutely Cuckoo / I Don't Believe In The Sun / All My Little Words / A Chicken With Its Head Cut Off / Reno Dakota / I Don't Want To Get Over You / Come Back From San Francisco / The Luckiest Guy On The Lower East Side / Let's Pretend We're Bunny Rabbits / The Cactus Where Your Heart Should Be / I Think I Need A New Heart / The Book Of Love / Fido, Your Leash Is Too Long / How Fucking Romantic / The One You Really Love / Punk Love / Parades Go By / Boa Constrictor / A Pretty Girl Is Like... / My Sentimental Melody / Nothing Matters When We're Dancing / Sweet-Lovin' Man / The Things We Did And Didn't Do / Roses / Love Is Like Jazz / When My Boy Walks Down The Street / Time Enough For Rocking When We're Old / Very Funny / Grand Canyon / No One Will Ever Love You / If You Don't Cry / You're My Only Home / Not That Crazy, (Crazy For You But) / My Only Friend / Promises Of Eternity / World Love / Washington D. C. / Long-Forgotten Fairytale / Kiss Me Like You Mean It / Papa Was A Rodeo / Epitaph For My Heart / Asleep And Dreaming / The Sun Goes Down And The World Goes Dancing / Way You Say Good-Night / Abigail, Belle Of Kilronan / I Shatter / Underwear / It's A Crime / Busby Berkeley Dreams / I'm Sorry I Love You / Acoustic Guitar / The Death Of Ferdinand De Saussure / Love In The Shadows / Bitter Tears / Wi' Nae Wee Bairn Ye'll Me Beget / Yeah! Oh, Yeah! / Experimental Music Love / Meaningless / Love Is Like A Bottle Of Gin / Queen Of The Savages / Blue You / I Can't Touch You Anymore / Two Kinds Of People / How To Say Goodbye / The Night You Can't Remember / For We Are The King Of The Boudoir / Strange Eyes / Xylophone Track / Zebra

    Having just completed my favourite 100 albums 'of all time' list for this site, you will see the pointless-ness of such things when this album gets a higher grade than around 30 of the albums in that list, but this album isn't in there! What the fuck? Well, the bottom 50 or so albums in that list could be replaced by another 100 albums 'bubbling under' such is the small difference between them in terms of being a favourite of mine. I have over 700 albums, anything in the top 100 is highly recommended! Anyways. Onto this old thing. I remember the day I walked into Virgin Megastore one day and saw a triple CD album with '69 Love Songs' written on the front. I bought it on the spot, being an impulsive sort of a guy, even though i'd never heard of The Magnetic Fields. Imagine my delight when I took it home and found at least half a dozen of the songs were fantastic, and that was just on first listen! I've hardly gone off it since, either. Of course, there are TOO MANY songs on here. Of course, a good number of songs here aren't up to much. Well, you try writing 69 themed songs in a matter of months and see how YOU get on???

    For the record, 'I Don't Believe In The Sun' almost renders all the ballads by The Divine Comedy redundant - that's how good it is! Almost, not quite. 'Come Back From San Francisco' complete with guest female vocalist is so very good, and spine chilling. I could easily fall in love with someone listening to this. 'Promises Of Eternity on disc two sounds like the best Soft Cell song ever! 'When My Boy Walks Down The Street' reveals something about the writer of these songs. A one man band. I admire him. He has talent. 'he is going to be my wife...' and it almost passes you by. This is music as art written about things the guy cares about. 'The Sun Goes Down....' and 'The Way You Say Goodnight' are both devastatingly romantic. Guitars, strings, talent. I wish I could write as simply and expressively as this. Most of the lesser songs seem stuck on disc three, but not all of them and one great song 'The Night You Can't Remember' is on this disc in particular. Such a concept! Such a joy! A fantastic album.

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    Readers Comments

    Lauren.Alergant@bolton.gov.uk Lauren Alergant
    Most of the good songs are on the 1st CD - Absolutely Cuckoo, Luckiest Guy On The Lower East Side and of course I Think I Need A New Heart which is the funkiest song on the album. I'd agree with the 9 though.

    Kai Samuelsen kaiguy@rocketmail.com
    Hey, I was just surfing along and came across your review of 69 Love Songs. I discovered magnetic fields on the internet, and I have to agree with you about the absolute brilliance of the songwriting. I have to, of course, mention a couple of my favorites; Abigail, belle of Kilronan, Busby Berkely Dreams, All my little Words, and Nothing Matters when we're dancing. Also, I wanted to know if you were aware that Stephin Merritt also writes all the songs for a side project named the 6ths? If not, check out Night Falls Like a Grand Piano or Kissing Things.

    amylesdunne@yahoo.co.uk Andy
    Good review, but how could you forget to mention 'I don't want to get over you' as a standout track!

    elko ellisjones@gmail.com
    Most of album reviews are spot on, but this one is a little out. This album deserves nothing more than a TEN. All My Little Words and Absolutely Cuckoo are just two of sixty nine reasons why. Everyone should own this album.

    Tyler Bailey skywilde@yahoo.com
    I agree that Stephin Merrit is brilliant. I love the instrumentation (ukulele, cello, etc.) and his melodies. I can't put anyone on par with Brian Wilson, but Stephin's songs sometimes remind me of the eldest Wilson's, mainly the multiple melodies woven throughout many songs. I have to give 69 Love Songs a 10.

    Stephen Murphy writeme@stephenmurphy.com
    Really - this album should have 10. 91/2 at least. It just gets better and better as each year goes by. By the way, the Magnetic Fields are awesome live, especially the heartbeaking 'All My Little Words' on that fuzzed up space-banjo sound. Brian Wilson my ass. Merrit pisses in his teacup.

    Joe H jcjh20@hotmail.com
    Most bands these days are lucky to cram a decent album of some decent material, but Merritt brilliantly crafts 3 CDs worth of music. And practically every song ranks from above average to brilliance. 10 all the way for me. One of my favorite albums of all time, much less of the 90's. This is everything i love about music - artistic, diverse, emotional, resonant arrangements, and most of all, overall beauty. My favorites are mostly the songs where LD Beghtol sings lead ("The Way You Say Goodnight", "My Sentimental Melody", "Bitter Tears", etc.). Definitely the best vocalist on the album, and i wish he sang more songs on it. Though Merritt and the others sure put on a fine performence, especially Claudia Gonson on the beautiful "Acoustic Guitar". Wonderful, wonderful album, and deserves all the credit it gets.

    Dan justto_haveone@hotmail.com
    There's not one below-advanced song on this 3-hour tribute to great bands like Fleetwood Mac and Jesus and Mary Chain. One may think that a CD such as this might be "too long," yet there isn't one song here to bore the listener! I have to disagree with your picking out a bunch of random songs in the sea of perfectness that is 69 Love Songs. :)


    i 8 ( 2004 )
    I Die / I Don't Believe You / I Don't Really Love You Anymore / I Looked All Over Town / I Thought You Were My Boyfriend / I Was Born / I Wish I Had an Evil Twin / If There's Such a Thing as Love / I'm Tongue-Tied / In an Operetta / Infinitely Late at Night / Irma / Is This What They Used to Call Love / It's Only Time

    The review above you was written circa 2002. This one has been written circa 2008. In the six years since I wrote the review for '69 Love Songs' i've acquired over 4,000 albums. I've reviewed well over 1,000 albums. The above is an example of one of my earliest reviews and even though I believe the rating is still spot on, I could have done more with that review. How about a track by track review? Normally those things are rubbish, but for a 69 track album, wouldn't that be ace? Anyway, that's not what we're here for. 'i' is another concept album of sorts, in that all the song titles begin with the letter 'i'. Works for me. Oh, wait! I've noticed the tracklisting is in entirely alphabetical order. Whilst 'i' might not be so lavish as '69 Love Songs' then, it remains really rather clever. Well, we would expect nothing less from Magnetic Fields. Another unusual touch concerning the album is the complete lack of synths, rather Stephen Merrit relies on guitar, cello, banjo, harpsichord, etc, etc. Although Merritt has been far from lazy since '69 Love Songs', involved in numerous side-projects and soundtracks, it's still hard to shake a sense of disappointment when first listening to the far more modest 'i' album. The arrangements are much the same as before, by the way. Music with spaces in them, two or three instruments, normally one playing the melody and the others percussion. You won't generally get groovy bass lines on a Magnetic Fields album. Actually, there's something very 80s indie about the sound. The difference is made by Stephen Merrit himself. His worldview is unique, and although comparisons are made to Morrissey, he's a very different character. Morrissey will write songs in a character, although you know there's plenty of Morrissey in there too. Stephen Merritt, especially with this album, always writes songs where it's very believable that it's him inside the songs in question. His voice is a deadpan monotone, yet through his wordplay he still gets in plenty of wry humour.

    We always look to a couple of instant classics on Magnetic Fields albums, 'i' provides these, as expected. 'I Thought You Were My Boyfriend' is a story, a pop song, it has piano lines criss crossing and real drums, although the overall effect is to make it sound the same as if Stephen Merritt was still using synths. That doesn't matter, it's a cool song in any case. 'I Don't Really Love You Anymore' is very '69 Love Songs', a continuation, as such. A sub three minute pop song of wonderful simplicity. Simple rhymes that build upon each other and make you grin. That's enough, isn't it? Elsewhere, the closing 'It's Only Time' sees The Magnetic Fields in mournful mode with a very sweet bedtime lullaby of sorts, even seeing Stephen Merritt attempt a little falsetto vocal at one point. Not really his strong-point, although musically anyway with violin, cello and lots of twinkling, 'It's Only Time' is beautiful. The album suffers from a few mediocre tracks and never quite reaches the heights of '69 Love Songs', yet this is enough of a consolidation of the groups new position in the minds of music lovers as an act to pay attention to. They should be paying attention, at least.

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    Distortion( 2008 )
    Three-Way / California Girls / Old Fools / Xavier Says / Mr Mistletoe / Please Stop Dancing / Drive On, Driver / Too Drunk to Dream / Till the Bitter End / I'll Dream Alone / The Nun's Litany / Zombie Boy / Courtesans

    Stephen Merritt has come out and said he wanted to create an album like Jesus and Mary Chain. He doesn't manage to do that, but 'Distortion' is indeed somewhat distorted, with guitars trailing off in feedback and sound. Essentially though, this album is a collection of actual tunes, another set of love songs. Happily, the actual songs themselves are decent and the distortion, whilst clearly not My Bloody Valentine or Jesus And Mary Chain, adds an interesting layer of texture to the songs. It's a texture not usually present on Magnetic Fields albums where the simple melodies shine without complication. These distorted guitar parts work especially well on the slower tunes such as 'Mr Mistletoe' which might be one of the saddest Christmas tunes ever written. Oh, this is a Magnetic Fields album where guest vocalists return for the first time since '69 Love Songs'. This is a welcome facet of the album, it was the variety of voices Stephen Merritt placed his words in that was one of the delights of that particular classic album. 'Distortion' is a story of two halves, by the way. The first half nearly matches '69 Love Songs' and nearly feels like a return to form. The second half seems merely to trail away, with the wobbliness of the distortion appearing to be ever more like a gimmick as the album progresses. For the first half though, it works pretty well.

    We open with the stomping groovy delight that is 'Three Way', a song with the title repeated at various points as this near instrumental goes about its business. The best tune on the album arrives next, Stephen Merrits answer to Mike Love's idealism. Stephen gets in some bitter, incisive and sarcastic lines throughout 'California Girls', not a cover version, by the way. It's a tune that matches the finer moments from '69 Love Songs', only with a swarm of guitar noise rumbling above the main melodic thread. 'Old Fools' is a slow to mid-tempo song with a considered voice of melancholy and is quite lovely, as is another slower tune, 'Mr Mistletoe'. Songs such as 'The Nun's Litany' and 'I'll Dream Alone' severely let the side down, though. Melodies struggle to come through and is the distortion actually needed? It does however bring something new to the table once we reach 'Zombie Boy' which doesn't sound very much like a typical Magnetic Fields tune, rather resembling early eighties indie/alternative goth. Good stuff. Unfortunately though, The Magnetic Field's sporadic album releases are failing to reach past a small, albeit devoted, fanbase. Concepts such as 'i' or 'Distortion' don't capture the imagination in the same way '69 Love Songs' undoubtedly did.

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    Realism 7 ( 2010 )
    You Must Be Out of Your Mind / Interlude / We Are Having a Hootenanny / I Don't Know What to Say / The Dolls' Tea Party / Everything Is One Big Christmas Tree / Walk a Lonely Road / Always Already Gone / Seduced and Abandoned / Better Things / Painted Flower / The Dada Polka / From a Sinking Boat

    The Magnetic Fields latest places adult concerns over music that's often childlike in terms of the instrumentation used, a deliberate slice of disconnection by Stephen Merritt, one feels. Conceived as the flip-side to 2008's noisy 'Distortion', the folk elements of 'Realism' place the sound of Magnetic Fields closer to '69 Love Songs' than perhaps they have been since that turn of the decade high water mark. Well, that album will forever follow them around wherever they go, it was such a marvellous concept that any subsequent album is always going to have to strain to achieve any kind of similar levels of attention. 'Realism' is frequently lovely then without quite having the calibre of melodies the highlights from '69 Love Songs' certainly did have. I must say, I prefer the darker, melancholic material such as 'Walk A Lonely Road' to the silliness apparent during the likes of 'We Are Having A Hootenanny' which seems a little throwaway to my ears. 'Always Already Gone' is a sweet little dirge, 'The Dolls Tea Party' is far too twee even for the often twee Magnetic Fields whilst album highlight 'I Don't Know What To Say' benefits hugely from the musical approach this album takes. Well, still no synths, ghostly vocals and delicate, textured exotic dashes of musical melody.

    Acoustic stringed instruments abound throughout 'Realism' which is really why this has been labelled 'folk', it reality 'Realism' is no more folk than 'i' or '69 Love Songs'. The novelty of 'Everything Is One Big Christmas Tree' will inevitably get played by indie-kids on Xmas day, 'The Dada Polka' is an intriguing mix of sounds and album closer 'From A Sinking Boat' is exceptional atmosphere, mournful exotica and distant, indistinct lyrics and vocals. Well, 'Realism' doesn't exactly where it's heart on its sleeve and at just thirty three minutes with several tunes marked as 'filler' you wonder whether Stephen Merritt shouldn't have worked up a few more tunes for this LP before releasing it. Still, for the likes of 'I Don't Know What To Say' and the classic Merritt pop of 'You Must Be Out Of Your Mind' at the very least, 'Realism' is a worthwile addition to an already existing Magnetic Fields fans collection.

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    this page last updated 20/02/10


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