Home Read Classic Album Review: The Magnetic Fields | i

Classic Album Review: The Magnetic Fields | i

Hopeless romantic Stephin Merritt sweeps you off your feet with this concept album.

This came out in 2004 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):


Love, it has been said, is when someone else’s happiness is more important than your own.

I’m not sure who wrote that, but I know it wasn’t Stephin Merritt. In his world, you can’t spell love without that most selfish of letters — I.

The lower case version of the alphabet’s ninth letter is not only the title of the latest pop masterpiece from the hopelessly romantic tunesmith and his Magnetic Fields; it’s also the songwriting concept that governs it. Each of these 14 lovelorn tales of longing and regret begins with I, as in I Don’t Believe You, I Don’t Love You Anymore, I Thought You Were My Boyfriend, I’m Tongue-Tied, and my fave, I Wish I Had An Evil Twin. (For the prolific Merritt, this sort of stunt writing is par for the course; his last Magnetic Fields release was the exhaustive, literally titled three-disc set 69 Love Songs.)

No matter how melancholy or misanthropic his mood, however, Merritt’s immaculate songcraft remains consistently gorgeous and seductive. Forsaking his usual synths for cello, harpsichord and banjo, he and a small cadre of backing players paint lush, elegantly textured chamber-folk and orch-pop canvases that spotlight his wry wit (“Feels like December but it’s May / I’ve gone as pale as Doris Day”) and dusty, self-consciously stiff baritone. Imagine that guy from the Human League singing Morrissey covers with Belle And Sebastian and you’re halfway there.

A concept album nearly as inspiring and intoxicating as the concept of love itself, i is all but guaranteed to sweep you off your feet.