One might that think that 69 love songs would be enough for one band to write and record, but The Magnetic Fields’ latest album, Love at the Bottom of the Sea, shows us that songwriter Stephin Merritt has at least another fifteen love songs to bring forth. In fact, this latest album feels like an addendum to the 1999's 69 Love Songs. For those unfamiliar with the album, it is just as its title describes—69 back-to-back tracks about love. But it’s not full of your usual sappy, straightforward, heteronormative love songs. 69 Love Songs and now Love at the Bottom of the Sea explore love from many angles, in all its glorious (and not so glorious) permutations.
A highlight of the new album is its second track, “Andrew in Drag.” Reminiscent of the Kinks’ “Lola,” the song tells of a night in which the narrator goes to see his friend Andrew in a drag show, just for laughs. He falls deeply in love with the character, causing him to lament, “A pity she does not exist, a shame he’s not a fag, the only girl I’ve ever loved is Andrew in drag.”
Typical of Merritt’s writing, some of the songs are downright silly. The cheery pop music juxtaposed with morbid lyrics of “Your Girlfriend’s Face” sounds like it could easily be a parody off a Weird Al Yankovich record. “My Husband’s Pied-a-Terre,” which features long-time band member Claudia Gonson on vocals, is a wife’s pathetically sad, yet slightly humorous telling of her husband’s chair-less sex pad to which every woman in town but her possesses a key.
As on previous Magnetic Fields records, Sea makes steady use of synthesizers, producing an underwater or otherworldly sort of quality. The band is known for using of a multitude of different instruments, conventional and organic, in their music to create a layered effect through which is oftentimes difficult to distinguish any one particular instrument. On this new album in particular, Merritt admits the use of several newly-invented synthesizers.
While it doesn’t seem at first listen that Love at the Bottom of the Sea has any truly heart-wrenchingly beautiful and universal odes d’amour the way that 69 Love Songs has in “Book of Love” or “All My Little Words,” the songs will likely do better in a live setting. Merritt suffers from hyperacusis, a condition that causes ringing in the ears with sounds louder than normal, and so Magnetic Fields performances are often stripped down acoustic affairs that reduce the songs down to their base lyrics and instrumentation. Void of heavy synthesizers or percussion is when Merritt’s songs reveal their true beauty and lyrical quality. That being said, Love at the Bottom of the Sea is another strong collection of songs from one of the most respected working songwriters today.
Love at the Bottom of the Sea is out now on Merge Records.
The Magnetic Fields will play to a sold out crowd at the 9:30 Club on April 9th.