The Magnetic Fields

i (Nonesuch)

69 Love Songs, the Magnetic Fields' three-disc adventure in pop-music dilettantism, was the point where the antiquated past (jazz, blues, standards, chamber music) crashed into the space-age future (synth-pop). Five years after 69, on his band's seventh disc, MF front man Stephin Merritt has ditched synthesizers completely -- an unfortunate choice, since the organic-sounding iironically possesses much less emotional oomph than his electronica-steeped outings did.

"Is This What They Used to Call Love" and "It's Only Time" are frosty, piano-driven elegies, with melodrama ("Whenever I get near you, dear/My heart starts to sicken") but not spine-tingling impact. "Irma" -- a tale of a chocolate-loving girl whose father crashes his van into her bedroom, spilling candy everywhere -- loses its Shel Silverstein-style whimsy amid plodding banjo, while the playful lope of "I'm Tongue-Tied" resembles an injured horse trying to gallop. In fact, i's best songs ape the chipper New Wave atmosphere of previous MF songs -- such as the biting "I Thought You Were My Boyfriend," where Merritt emotes while sinusoidal rhythms and piano twinkles tremble like OMD and Joy Division having a tussle.

 
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