Album Review: The Magnetic Fields – Realism

January 28, 2010
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The Magnetic Fields - Realism (Cover Art)Title: Realism
Artist: The Magnetic Fields
Label: Nonesuch / Warner Bros
Released: 26 January 2010
In one word: Twee

The Magnetic Fields previous record Distortion had a very apt name, and on that album those fuzzbuzz’s The Jesus and Mary Chain were the biggest reference point in terms of its sound. The Magnetic Fields newest release Realism has a less fitting name – Fantasy would be a more suitable title – and instead of J&MC, I’d reference another great Scottish band The Vaselines for a parallel, given the zany folk-pop creations that you’ll find on this album.

I started this one on track nine “Seduced and Abandoned”, (thanks to the shuffle button), and immediately had to double-check to be sure I hadn’t mistakingly downloaded the soundtrack to some new Robin Hood movie. No, this was very definitely the new record from The Magnetic Fields, but really it feels like a song taken straight from medieval times. The fanciful lyrics of “Seduce and Abandoned”, and the doddering pace of which they are sung, are backed by suitably whimsical sounds; sounds conjured by a range of traditional instruments that are employed throughout the album including a cuatro (a small four-stringed guitar), sitar, violins, piano, banjo and accordion.

Returning to track one, “You Must Be Out of Your Mind” is perhaps the best of the album. The lyrics “I want you crawling back to me, Down on your knees, yeah, Like an appendectomy, Sans anesthesia” are characteristically  brimming with wordiness, but then such wordy wit is seemingly mocked with the line in the chorus, “You can’t go ’round just saying stuff, (Just) Because it’s pretty”. I’m inclined to believe the Magnetic Fields are poking a bit of fun at themselves with this track, and even if they’re not then such word games at least add to the theme of confusion.

For all the fanciful plucking, clanking and tinkering throughout, “I Don’t Know What To Say” maintains a dry and dour tone, but then after the final refrain of the chorus the song ends with the fading words of “I could try and shove you off the nearest cliff…” This is another demonstration of the snippets of wry and dark humour throughout, and to me it’s one of the most appealing aspects of the album. Stephin Merritt said this would be his “folk album” and we shouldn’t be surprised that it would contain twists of this nature.

Meanwhile the Claudia Gonson led tune “The Dolls’ Tea Party” is just pure storybook twee, and speaking of twee, the “The Dada Polka” is the song that reminded me the most of The Vaselines and offers up more quintessentially British folk.

If you’re a fan of the geeky-quirkiness of the Magnetic Fields and Stephin Merrit then there is plenty to enjoy on Realism, while if you’re the kind of person that likes to don tights and partake in medieval reenactments then you may just have found the perfect record for listening to while you prance around the camp fire drinking ale.

© Brian Banks

Brian Banks

Editor and Founder, Music Vice Magazine. Writer. Photographer. Poet. From Scotland. Not Ireland. Proudly based in Toronto, Canada. Rock N' Roll Don't Pay The Rent... 

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