Magnetic Fields played four sold out nights at Town Hall, NY immediately following the release of their new album Distortion. The much ballyhooed conceit behind the album Distortion was that the album was to sound more like The Jesus and Mary Chain than the Jesus and Mary Chain. Naturally, I was expecting a considerable departure from the more low production and largely acoustic recent albums 69 Love Songs and i. A bit to my disappointment, all Distortion has by way of JAMC reference was taking songs that could very well been on any of the previous two albums and overlaid a slightly more fuzzy guitar bit and buried the vocals. What furthered my aggravation was that Stephen Merritt sings on only half of the songs. I probably wouldn’t get much arguing if I claimed that Distortion is the weakest Magnetic Fields album to date.
As for the live show, I was hoping that Stephen Merritt was going to do a Dylan and put down his ukulele and go all electric or hell, go all Kraftwerk. No such luck. The show nonetheless didn’t disappoint. One good aspect was that they played something off of nearly the whole Merritt back catalog including his contributions to the Lemminy Snicket and Eban and Charley soundtracks, the 6ths albums, Gothic Archies albums, and his theater work. I have to say that the Merritt catalog is mighty deep at this point. What also made the show enjoyable was that many of the new songs that Merritt didn’t sing on the new album, he sang, making the live versions a step-up from the album version as illustrated by this track. The down side was that like the album Distortion, Stephen seams either a bit tired or bored, giving over singing duties to Claudia and Shirley for half of the songs in the set–again regardless of who did the vocals on the album version.
On a side note: Stephen Merritt gives great interviews. I recommend reading this one he gave to the Village Voice.
[audio: http://thesoundofindie.com/archive/2008/20080401/MF-NunsLitany.mp3|titles=Nun’s Litany (Live)|artists=Magnetic Fields]
Download: Magnetic Fields – Nun’s Litany (Live)