Like wine, most people mature with age. And then there’s The Magnetic Fields. The group’s tenth album, Love At The Bottom Of The Sea includes 15 of the most goofy and vibrant indie pop ditties, it’s essentially music that sounds like it was produced by a bunch of kids half the age of the American forty-somethings that are actually responsible for it.
The Magnetic Fields won plenty of hearts with their 3-disc odyssey, 69 Love Songs. After a subsequent trilogy of albums where they eschewed the synth pop songs that propelled their previous releases, this time around it seems like they made a concerted effort to bring the synths back, because they are in such abundance. Multi-instrumentalist, Stephin Merritt has even said that some of the synths they used hadn’t even been invented when they last recorded with these instruments back in the day.
Love At The Bottom Of The Sea clocks in a just under 35 minutes. The tunes are all less than three minutes in length and are full of the wit and dry personality of their author. At times irreverent and an exercise in celebrating their wild and obtuse joyfulness, it is fun and often absurdly so.
“Your Girlfriend’s Face” opens with the line: “So I’ve taken a contract out on you”. It’s the kid of disturbing, revenge-fuelled content that Dave McCormack tackled so well on his album with The Polaroids, The Truth About Love. However, with The Fields this is combined with synth pop sounds that are cheeky and rather hyper so it is also reminiscent of Regurgitator and while bouncy, it is not a patch on the following standout track and lead single.
“Andrew In Drag” is a camp and grandiose statement about sexual confusion and unattainable love. It is such an oddly, wonderful delight to hear Merritt admit: “The only girl I ever loved is Andrew in drag”. It’s also something I could imagine Darren Hanlon performing with tongue placed firmly in cheek amongst his own kitsch songs. Ditto “All She Cares About Is Mariachi,” an old-school dance ballad with pops, an accordion and a Latin feel.
Unfortunately the remainder of the album tends to err on being throwaway, bubblegum music. “God Wants Us To Wait” is perhaps an exception as it’s a fine, sarcastic jab at religion and celibacy while “Born For Love” is a forgettable, overblown pop number lost in space, amidst a sea of electronic blips. “I’d Go Anywhere With Hugh” meanwhile, is circus fanfare, pure and simple and is coupled with a twee moment that is replicated on “The Machine In Your Hand”. The latter is also occasionally reminiscent of Songs with the boy-girl vocals and “My Husband’s Pied-à-Terre” goes for a melancholy, silent movie-style piano before segueing off to dance along to an off-kilter, electro beat.
On Love At The Bottom Of The Sea The Magnetic Fields produce 15 jaunty tracks full of youthful exuberance- all sharp, pithy and crazed with the quintet left feeling liberated enough to sit back and bask in glee. At times it is cluttered and so syrupy it’s unnatural and feels like it’s full of preservatives. Ultimately though, Merritt and Co. are a cheeky group, pushing boundaries of weirdness and lapping up their freedom by dancing in the dappled light. It’s just a shame then that most of the results are forgettable saccharine, such that it’s almost like eating an Easter egg and then a bunny because you’d forgotten you’d already gone and eaten chocolate. So basically it’s fun but it’ll hardly sate your appetite for indie pop music.
Originally published on 18 April 2012 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/32259/The-Magnetic-Fields–Love-At-The-Bottom-Of-The-Sea
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