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Music Review: The Magnetic Fields – Distortion

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My new year's resolution was to give up soda cold turkey. I don't really like the taste of most sodas that much, actually, but my need for them is something like an addict. Truth be told I haven't really missed drinking them these past two weeks. I'm perfectly fine drinking sweet tea, juice, and water. However, a couple of times my wife has bought a bottle of Coke and left the remains in the refrigerator. Each time I have opened the door my body has tensed up, driblets of drool have seeped down my chin, and I want nothing more in this world than to have one taste. One cool drink of its sweet nectar.

Each time I have summoned enough will power to shut the door and move away. That's as close to hard drug addiction as I've ever come, but while listening to the Magnetic Fields' new album, Distortion, I can't help to wonder if maybe I should have tried something stronger.

Remember how on the Velvet Underground's “Heroin” the song was intended to give the listener a feel of what smack addiction was like – brief moments of euphoria followed by long, slow eternities of boredom and desperation? As a whole Distortion is a bit like that.

Unfortunately, the album begins on an off-note with “Three-Way,” which sounds a bit like a more languid, mostly instrumental reworking of “Love Goes Home to Paris in the Spring.” It picks up a bit with “California Girls” which is something like the antagonistic reply to David Lee Roth's cover of the Beach Boys' classic “California Girls” where the girls are no longer beautiful models spread out in lusty bikinis, but rather egotistical snobs which should be destroyed.

From there continues a string of not very interesting sad bastard songs until track number six, “Please Stop Dancing” which picks up the goofy lyricalness and playful musicality that made me love Stephin Merritt in the first place. It is all hit and miss after that with the highlights being “Too Drunk to Dream” wherein the singer seems almost proud that he needs to remain in a state of drunkenness to keep from thinking about his broken heart, and “the Nun's Litany” with another broken heart dreaming of the grandiose sexual exploits she should have rather than the more likely chastity that will set in.

Distortion is an apt title for the album as the music is all fuzz guitars and power pop. If you can scrape through the noise, you'll fine a couple of gems , but it does take a bit of work, and in doing so you might wind up with the sort of headache produced after being caffeine free for a few weeks.

For a limited time, Distortion is streaming on their myspace page.

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About Mat Brewster