I must be the only person to be reviewing this without ever having heard its ultra-revered predecessor "69 Love Songs". Therefore I can't whinge about how it's nowhere near as good, and I have to actually say what the Magnetic Fields sound like to the uninitiated. There's a lot to like on "i", but also a lot that doesn't seem to say much. The chamber arrangements for various interesting acoustic instruments are sensitively done, sometimes reminding me of Badly Drawn Boy's first album, or Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Stephin Merritt's singing is breezy and relaxed, and his self-deprecation is endearing. The lyrics are witty (using words like "nary" and "moot") but not overbearing enough to irritate, like They Might Be Giants can sometimes. They're maybe closer to Belle and Sebastian, or Divine Comedy without the showmanship. Merritt does write a nifty tune here and there, such as "I Don't Believe You" and the lo-fi disco "I Thought You Were My Boyfriend". "Is This What they Used to Call Love" stands out in particular with its Brian Eno-like piano splashes. But a few tracks like "Infinitely Late at Night" or "I Was Born" just come across as dirges. I'm going to heed the critics though and check out 69 Love Songs, and hope it lives up to the hyperbole.
July 14, 2004