The Sky Report has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 6 seconds. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks. To view the post you came here for, simply search the artist name in the sidebar at the new site!

Monday, January 21, 2008

THE MAGNETIC FIELDS - "Distortion" 81%

It’s been over eight years since The Magnetic Fields released their magnum opus “69 Love Songs”, a three-disc album that lifted Stephin Merritt from eccentric indie songwriter status to a widely-praised musical poet. With “Distortion”, Merritt has not been shy about his attempt to make a record that sounds like The Jesus & Mary Chain. He has said that he feels “like “Psychocandy” is the last significant event in pop music production…It’s the last album that sounded shockingly new, to me anyway.” I’m not certain that he succeeded in the attempt to recreate a record of that importance, but utilizing the same methods, he has does something better. Drenched in feedback and Phil Spector-like melodies, Merritt has crafted an original album of bittersweet pop gems.

“Distortion” kicks off with the celebratory-sounding ‘Three-Way’, which explodes with a jubilance and such an air of expansive freedom that you’ll find yourself wishing you were driving on an open road to some idea of paradise at the end of it. The track conjures images of sexual liberation, yet only uses the occasional, very simple “Three-Way” cheer to portray it lyrically. The punch is in the screeching guitars and the pounding piano chords. But right away, Merritt kills any idea of a false paradise with the wickedly humorous track ‘California Girls’, in which his lyrics describe taking a battle-ax to those tanned, blonde girls. The fact that these lyrics are sung in a deadpan matter of factness by longtime collaborator Shirley Simms only adds to the irresistible genius of the track.

Merritt has said that he originally recorded and mastered the album, singing all the tracks himself. This is quite fascinating to me, as Shirley Simms’ presence here seems so vital. Simms has one of those voices that stays with you, gracing her tracks with a casual simplicity that somehow leaves a complex impact on the listener. This is perhaps best realized on the fantastic ‘Drive On, Driver’, one of a number of tracks here about unrequited love, a recurring theme in the world of The Magnetic Fields. Furthermore, the back and forth male/female vocals make great fun out of twisting the gender roles within each songs story. This works to a wonderful effect; something better discovered after multiple listens.

By far, the funnest moment on “Distortion” comes with ‘Too Drunk To Dream’, an instantly catchy sing-along that throws back to the older days of The Magnetic Fields. The track may very well be one of the greatest songs to ever make alcoholism seem so exuberant.

“I gotta get too pissed to miss you
or I’ll never get to sleep
I gotta drink wine not to pine for you
and God knows that ain’t cheap”

The most effective use of actual distortion comes with the final track ‘Courtesans’, which uses feedback to create a subliminal soundscape around Simms’ gentle vocals. The somber track has one of the greatest verses on the album:

“But courtesans are not like me
They don’t take love very hard
Their hearts are free
Their hearts are free
How avante-garde”

Of “Distortion”, Merritt says, “This is my most commercial record in a way. Some audience members may be completely and immediately turned off but, I figure, if you find it too loud, just turn it down and it will sound quite pretty.” I beg to differ. The louder “Distortion” is, the prettier it gets.

Originally published on

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really like when people are expressing their opinion and thought. So I like the way you are writing