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January 17, 2008

Magnetic Fields 'Distortion'



Well, you can't say you weren't warned. The Magnetic Fields' new album "Distortion" (Nonesuch) is totally filled with, well, distortion. The fuzzy electric guitar effect hangs from everywhere on the album, creating a hazy, echoing, pulsing backdrop for all of Stephin Merritt's songs, making them all seem rockier and more aggressive than usual.

It's pretty clear Merritt wanted "Distortion" to be his version of The Jesus and Mary Chain's landmark "Psychocandy" album. But his vocals, especially when combined with those of Shirley Simms, are far too distinctive and harmonious to match the pleasant drone of the Reid brothers.

On "Psychocandy," the squalling, unpredictable feedback and guitar distortion were the stars of the songs, with the tongue-in-cheek lyrics and lost Beach Boy melodies as supporting players. Merritt simply can't help but make his lyrics and melodies the focus of his songs, even when he tries not to.

Maybe that's why the woozy, weaving "Too Drunk to Dream" ? with its string of drunk/sad rhymes "too fried to cry," "too high to sigh," "I gotta drink wine not to pine for you" ? is the most successful song on "Distortion." There's no conflict, only off-kilter pop roughed up a bit by the album's ever-present guitar roar.

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In the end, "Distortion," with its quest for uniformity and shroud of anger, only ends up showcasing Magnetic Fields' cleverness and pop sensibilities all the more.




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Blast from the past



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This was the No. 1 album 10 years ago this week, according to Billboard.com.

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