Magnetic Fields: Love from the Bottom of the Sea

Magnetic Fields, Love from the Bottom of the SeaMagnetic Fields: Love from the Bottom of the Sea
Stephen Merritt, the creative force who drives the Magnetic Fields has been wowing critics since 1999’s concept album 69 Love Songs, a three volume concept album. For the most part, Merritt has played the part of the obtuse artist to the hilt, preferring to let the music speak for itself. The world of the Magnetic Fields is an insular place, beholden to no trend. Whether the prolific output is obsessed over or refused outright is of no consequence to Merritt. Gail O’Hara, the director of the documentary Strange Powers: Stephen Merritt and the Magnetic Fields, described her film as “for the fans.” At this point, given Merritt’s critical celebrity, finicky personality, and rabid fan base, it is hard to imagine this or any Magnetic Fields album being released with anyone in mind but the fans, those with knowledge of and respect for the Magnetic Fields canon.
Love at the Bottom of the Sea, the Fields’ eleventh album, feels satirical, going so far as to skirt Mad Magazine on-the-nose jokiness at certain points. “I think I know what you would like us to do/When we have children, let’s have seventy-two/Until then we must be resigned to our fate/I love you baby, but God wants us to wait,” Merritt sings on the opening track, “God Wants Us to Wait.” Seeming more intent on shocking than moving emotionally, the album’s tone of playfulness is magnified by the electronic instrumentation, which ranges from standard dance floor punchiness, as on “Goin’ Back to the Country,” to the fully-submerged bubbliness of “Andrew In Drag,” which is, as Merritt puts it “about a straight guy who falls madly in love with the drag persona of his straight friend Andrew.” Vocal duties are split between Merritt and Claudia Gonson. Between his awkward baritone and her sing-song nursery rhyme delivery, both sung with deadly self-seriousness, they are daring the listener to laugh. It is hard not to be charmed by the light-heartedness with which Merritt approaches such topics as abstinence and sexual identity, even if these songs are too straight-forward to be appreciated on anything but a political level. For all the lack of subtlety, the album is an excellent way to start a conversation about the difficult subject matter the songs tackle. Whether taken as another brick in the already tall Magnetic Fields’ wall or a standalone work, anything that helps spark conversations of this nature is a good thing.
Rating: 7.5/10
MP3: The Magnetic Fields “God Wants Us To Wait”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! vinyl