The Magnetic Fields – Love at the Bottom of the Sea (Domino)

April 20, 2012 by  

World-weary cynics with an ear for a pleasing tune rejoice! The Magnetic Fields have returned. Behold – a new release from a talented group of musicians known for producing tracks of an impressively multifarious manner; often changeable, frequently experimental, but always intriguing. While some members alter between albums and tours, one remains the heart of the group. Stephin Merritt, ukulele extraordinaire and founder of three other outfits, formed the band in 1989 in an attempt to satisfy a mind stuffed with stupendous lyrics.

To this day Merritt is still the chief songwriter for The Magnetic Fields, and for that his admirers are thankful. His lyrics, which often cast an honest, bitter eye over the blissful highs and excruciating lows of romance, frequently present a curious balance of whimsical and gloomy. And it is Merritt’s lyrical prowess that, coupled with an astounding untrained bass vocal skill and intelligent musical awareness, draws listeners with every release.

Pleasingly, such an audio equilibrium is again evident on the band’s latest album. ‘Love at the Bottom of the Sea’, which is their eleventh major release, signals the next step after a ‘no-synth trilogy: ‘I’, ‘Realism’, and ‘Distortion’ were uncharacteristically synthesiser-lite.

The blending of electronics and traditional elements is evident from the opening track. ‘God Wants Us to Wait’, with its pulsing robotics and alluring groove, kicks off the band’s newest release brilliantly.

Hot on its tail is ‘Andrew in Drag’, an obvious album standout. Track two, which is mottled with pips and blips, is The Magnetic Fields at their melodic, endearing best. True to form, Merritt’s delectable lyrics compliment a splendidly structured arrangement. Dourly delivered sentiment, delicious metaphors, and mischievous puns are, as always, part of the fun.

‘Horrible Party’, a reluctantly buoyant waltz, is wonderful. The desire to dwell within its mirthful tones is thwarted by its length, however; at just over two minutes, this treasure of a track is frustratingly short.

Other album highlights include ‘Quick!’, a bass-heavy tune with stuttering electronics and lavish vocals, and ‘Goin’ Back to the Country’, a bouncy ditty that seizes both your shoulders for outbursts of involuntary impromptu line-dancing. Like the magnificent ‘All the Umbrellas in London’ from the band’s 2007 release ‘Get Lost’, ‘Born for Love’ is an elongated, yearning affair. Some tracks, such as ‘All She Cares About is Mariachi’, ‘I Don’t Like Your Tone’, and ‘Infatuation (With Your Gyration)’ don’t work as well they ought, but their existence is more of a by-product of experimentation than a musical issue.

Some artists are castigated – rightly on several occasions, wrongly on many others – for daring to change. In the most extreme of cases, a shift in direction can have a devastating effect on the career of a band. Yet for The Magnetic Fields, whose back catalogue includes a gargantuan 69 track love-themed release and an album comprising of intentionally distorted audio, a fresh outlook is both expected and embraced. ‘Love at the Bottom of the Sea’ is no exception.


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