An amusingly sober romance
By Geoffrey Himes
Friday, Apr. 6, 2012
In the song "Born for Love," the Magnetic Fields' Stephin Merritt sings that he's so passionate about romance that he has "killed three men and one unicorn for love." It's an amusing line in its hyperbole, but it also has a sober side. That peculiar blend of funny/serious informs all the songs on the band's terrific new album, "Love at the Bottom of the Sea."
Many of the 15 songs concern unconsummated love, and although Merritt allows us to laugh at the frustrated sufferers, he gets us to identify with them as well, and we are soon torn between our two responses. The deadpan singing - by Merritt or the two female lead vocalists, Shirley Simms and Claudia Gonson - encourages this ambiguity.
So does the music, which is also funny/serious. The witty arrangements resemble a giant, wheezing, creaking music box as repeating figures are created by cheesy synthesizers, horns, strings and bluegrass instruments.
At the same time, Merritt pens heart-tugging melodies that recall Paul McCartney or Cole Porter. It all sounds, as Simms sings on "The Horrible Party," as if "the player piano is tinkling 'Anything Goes.' "