The Magnetic Fields Love at the Bottom of the Sea(Merge (US) Domino (UK)) Buy it from Insound
If you’re part of one the indie world’s cult bands, (slightly) famed for making albums with unnecessary rules attached to them, how would you start your new album, one that’s all about love (again)? Well, the only option that’s available to you is to write a song about getting an assassin to kill someone, but not just any old hit-man, one that “will do his best to do his worst, after he’s messed up your girlfriend first”. Make sure there’s loads of weird lyrics, stuff about blowing off faces, add some weird splash like, novelty sounds and get someone to sing like those Parry Gripp songs, you know that Chimpanzee Riding on a Segway YouTube video? Like that. So that’s the first track sorted. Next, write a song about how your only love is a friend of yours who’s dressed like a woman. Maybe I should amend that bit saying it’s about love...
In many ways, this record is an extension of 69 Love Songs, the weird mix of ukuleles, bellowing voices and what can only be described as sploshy industrial kitsch, it’s all there. And, with tongue placed firmly in cheek, the songs are ridiculous as you’d expect. Just look at the song titles. Infatuation (With Your Gyration). I’m Going Far Away to Join the Faeries. It’s knowingly ridiculous. The aforementioned Infatuation is probably the most silly of them all. Any number of –tion and –ing words are rhymed into this unholy mess. It sounds like Kraftwerk have stopped trying. The whole record is like when you’re flicking about late at night and you find a repeat of an 80’s special version of Top of the Pops 2 show. You see all the normal hits by Prince and the Police and then this weird group pops up with the naffest synthesiser sounds this side of Duran Duran and it’s absolute rubbish. But you don’t care. You love the camp joy of stupid music.
However. There are three big pitfalls when making music as daft as this. One: It all gets a bit cynical and dull. Two: You overdo the tasteless sounds and it becomes a little bit too discordant, you make it into too much of a novelty and it tires after repeated listens. Three: You make an album that only your fans will show any interest in it. Love at the Bottom of the Sea avoids the first, struggles with the second and revels in the third. One: The cynicism is avoided through the tender moments being charming and the jokey moments being funny. Two: Born For Love is unlistenable. I normally love that low, low voice but it jars so offensively in that abomination of a track. And I’ve got that creeping feeling that I’ll be incredibly tempted to kick this album off my iPod after I’ve grown tired of the humour (though I’ll never tire of Andrew in Drag). Three: That’s the point! I’ll bet that if you told Stephin Merritt that one of your indiephobic friends had overhead some of the songs and hated them, he’d smile a broad smile and then say something witty in that voice that only elephants can hear.
And here comes the biggest compliment of all. It reminds me of The The. There’s a reasonable argument to say that Stephin Merritt is the new Matt Johnson (I say new, 69 Love Songs is 13 years old now). Purposefully ridiculous but brilliant. I’m just terrified I’ll hate it in a few months.4 May, 2012 - 09:39 — James McKenna