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The Magnetic Fields - I 2004 - WITH REVIEWS torrent
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Stephin Merritt likes a theme. Five years after triple-length magnum opus '69 Love Songs' comes 'i', fourteen songs beginning with the letter I. Every instrument is acoustic and hand-played: strings, xylophone, piano, ukulele, brushed drums, not a synth within earshot. And love is still all around. But this time it's personal. Instead of that kaleidoscope of voices, Merritt's suave croon leads every song here. It's more intimate this way.
As ever, Merritt's dropping self-deprecating witticisms one minute - "So you quote love unquote me / Well stranger things have come to be" ('I Don't Believe You') - and mournful laments the next - "I've gone as pale as Doris Day" ('Is This What They Used To Call Love'). He inhabits a dryly cynical world, where beautiful people walk past in their "bubble where nothing goes wrong" ('I Die') while their admirers are "tongue tied and useless" (I'm Tongue Tied'), relegated to the sidelines to watch in breathless awe, unable to approach their object of worship. Arch couplets like "I wish I had an evil twin / Running around doing people in" are scattered alongside understated murmurs of disillusionment, betrayal and loneliness. Even the joy of falling in love is tempered with lighthearted pessimism: "If there's such a thing as love", he announces cautiously, "I'm in it". Emotions are painted in all their complexity. Love is never taken at face value.
There's an intensely old fashioned air to 'i', not just because of the lack of flashy recording technology. By the time 'Infinitely Late At Night' comes around, it's all moonlit regret, undone bow ties and scotch on the rocks, drunk alone on the wrong side of town. Underpinning this wry melancholy are the winsome languor of Stephin Merritt's voice and the generous stash of tunes. Every one of these fourteen tracks is catchy pop or torch song. Some are both.
If the NHS starts offering smugness bypasses, Neil Hannon might be in with a chance of producing an album this clever and lush in equal measure, but until then, he's effortlessly outclassed. I for irresistible.
As Morrissey finds his spirited return feted in every media outlet imaginable, another true wit of our age has slipped in under the radar.
With his ass plonked firmly on the throne vacated by Noël Coward, Stephen Merritt of The Magnetic Fields long ago confirmed himself as the most amusing songwriter breathing. Author of the legendary '69 Love Songs' and bandleader for a baffling array of side projects, he also excels in weaving genuinely moving lyrics into his trademark sardonicism. 'i' straps a jet-pack to his sky-high reputation and watches it go stellar.
Mining a rich Manhattan heritage (think Irving Berlin, Stephen Sondheim and Woody Allen rather than The Ramones), Merritt (with his sub-woofer-cracking vocal still trapped in a hellish crevasse masquerading as an octave) allies drollness with concise meditations on romantic neuroses. And setting this all to the indifferent jauntiness of his minstrelesque folk is a masterstroke indeed.
The stomping 'I Thought You Were My Boyfriend' - a nineteenth century take on Depeche Mode - and 'I Don't Really Love You Anymore' (featuring a delightful pre-Ravi George Harrison solo) are the instantly loveable tracks here, but more tentative, hypnotic selections such as 'I Was Born' and 'Infinitely Late at Night' offer reward with repeated visits. And as far as titles go, 'I Wish I Had an Evil Twin' will take some beating in this or any other year.
Similar to Ben Folds and Aimee Mann, Merritt revives the lost art of inventing captivating fictions entwined with personal reflection. There's none of that whiny abstract angst that the vast majority of post-Dylan songsmiths succumb to. Rather than exercises in self-pity, the songs here manage to lay the groundwork for some highbrow sitcom.
The only gripe is that after the sheer proliferation of '69 Love Songs', the fourteen tracks here - clocking in at a little over forty mins - seem over before they begin; you can't help but want more! Ah, well. We have been a little spoilt, I suppose.
The explosion of material that resulted in the Magnetic Fields' triple-disc opus 69 Love Songs would've wiped out the average tunesmith, but mastermind Stephin Merritt wields a pen of bottomless ink. Like a long-distance runner, he paced himself, saving up material lest his many guises should grow restless. The 6ths released Hyacinths and Thistles the following year; 2002 saw the sophomore effort from the Future Bible Heroes and the soundtrack to the James Bolton film Eban and Charley; and in 2003 he scored yet another soundtrack, this time to the Katie Holmes drama Pieces of April. Nearly five years after Love Songs, the Magnetic Fields returned with i, a "synth free" collection of love, life, and loss that relies heavily on cello, guitar, and that most selfish of vowels, the letter I. Merritt's kitchen produces pop confections that can rot teeth, but the bitter aftertaste owes more to Randy Newman than it does Belle & Sebastian. He may be a stalker of clever rhymes about hopeless romantics and lost opportunities, but it's the failed and despondent receiving the brunt of his obsessive detail. On the deceptive lullaby "I Was Born," he laments, "Growing older is killing a child who laughed and smiled at anything." The specter of age is not immune to the pain of a broken heart, and the dense Brill Building aesthetic of songs like "I Don't Believe You" and "Looked All Over Town" resonate with the kind of desperation that's usually reserved for the young and naïve, but has manifested itself into — to quote a song title from the 6ths — an "Aging Spinster." Musically, i isn't that much of a departure from previous outings, as the "organic" instrumentation is often treated with the same effects that Merritt utilizes on his synth-based recordings. Cabaret-style pieces like "In an Operetta" are lent added weight by the self-described "awful" singer's newfound range, and when he unveils a surprisingly sweet and delicate falsetto on the gorgeous closer, "It's Only Time," the listener's voice breaks right along with him. There are plenty of prolific artists putting to tape their every whim, and Merritt's no exception. He may spread himself thin when overseeing his army of side projects, but when he leads his Magnetic Fields into battle, the results are always in the public's favor.
Artist: Magnetic Fields
Date Of Release: 2004
Genre: AlternaPop, ChamberPop, Indiepop
Bitrate: VBR --alt-preset extreme