After 69 Love Songs, the Magnetic Fields’ three-disc 1999 epic, fans of singer/songwriter/instrumentalist/band mastermind Stephin Merritt could only have had one question floating in their minds: “Where,” one might well have asked, “will he go from here?” The answer, as presented by i, is that he retreats to a hideaway deeply familiar to artists of similarly extreme prolificacy: the stripped-down, more organic and honest production. While such a move follows tradition, perhaps the time has come to examine the quality of results it produces.
Merritt, who also helms at least three other bands, is a man of impressive ambition. His decision to scale down on the latest album makes sense, though many of his choices could have been better advised.
First and foremost, he junks the synthesizers that have been part of the Fields’ sound for so long. (The credits actually make a point of indicating the presence of “no synths.”) Second, i’s 14 songs are focused almost entirely on languid despair and heavy-hearted rumination.
When these elements unite, the album presents itself as a fusion of two of the least agreeable developments in modern music: melancholy pop and the lo-fi movement. Luckily, Merritt is savvy enough to have partially salvaged matters with a clean production and the occasional clever rhyme. However, one suspects that portions of his despondently romantic lyrics will soon be seen on countless blogs.
“So you quote love unquote me,” a 14-year-old will copy and paste. “I die when you walk by.” This reviewer isn’t looking forward to it.
[Colin Marshall’s all-melancholy-lyrics blog should be up and running soon.]