20 Watts

20 Watts Reviews The Magnetic Fields’ Realism by Marc Sollinger

Listen to Magnetic Fields' Realism

PREVIEW: VISIT Magnetic Fields’ MySpace

WE GIVE IT: 17/20

The Magnetic Fields are masters of formula.  Stephin Merritt and his merry band of cohorts have a fairly simple procedure–marrying deppressing, funny and eminitably quotable lyrics sung in either Merritt’s mournful baritone or Claudia Gonson’s soprano. The beautifuly delicate, Tin Pan Alley-influenced instrumentals have been the driving force over the course of their previous eight albums, making for quite a few masterpieces along the way (69 Love Songs and The Charm Of The Highway Strip in particular should be required listening for all music fans).  The Magnetic Fields have mixed up their sound frequently, making synth-heavy pop, electronic country, shoegaze and now folk, but the essential formula remains the same.

Frankly, longtime fans wouldn’t have it any other way.  Merritt may have lost the capacity to surprise, but on Realism he proves once again that he can find the joy in melancholy better than anyone else working in music today.  The lyrics, as always, are excellent. The put downs of “You Must Be Out of Your Mind” and the jilted-at-the-alter tale of “Seduced and Abandoned” are particular favorites, but every song has at least one witty rhyme or playful aside.  This cleverness is accompanied by folksy, antiquated instruments: harpsicords, mandolins and banjos abound.  The lyrics may be the focal point, but the music is sumptuous, specifically on tracks like “Always Already Gone” and “The Dolls’ Tea Party,”  which sounds like a precocious love child of Irving Berlin and Richard Thompson.

The overall effect of listening to Realism is one of effervescent sadness–there’s not a happy song in the bunch, but the lyrics are too witty and the music too catchy for the listener to become depressed.  It’s the same feeling you get listening to nearly all of the Magnetic Fields’ extensive catalogue, and no band does it better. Realism doesn’t show a new side to The Magnetic Fields, but rather, it’s simply another quality album to add to the band’s lengthy and accomplished discography.

–Marc Sollinger

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