I’m skeptical of any new release from a band with eight full records already to their name, especially when one of those records featured sixty-nine songs all about the same boring-ass topic – but at least they were great songs, for the most part. Realism is the latest record from Stephin Merritt’s band, The Magnetic Fields, a band that’s delivered quality Indie pop for years, with most of it being from the 90’s.
Realism has been described by Merritt as his legitimate attempt at “. . .folk,” and also the third album since 2004’s ‘i’ that uses no synths, going for a more acoustic-y sound. Merritt has always been prolific – sometimes a bit too much so – but on this album especially, I can’t help but feel that he’s said all he can say, and the band is left with songs that sound similar to their older stuff; but it’s not even close when it comes to recapturing the aforementioned older stuff’s feel. This is immediately evident with the first track, “You Must Be Out Of Your Mind.” It sounds like it’s trying to be a 69 Love Songs derivative ("The Book of Love"), but most likely one you would have skipped when you played the original record in 1999. It sounds dated and lame, with Merritt barely trying, echoing decade old sentiments, “I don’t drink enough to think you’re witty,” as if he’s still a mid-twenties, early thirties guy, struggling with an atypical for his age teenage love angst – you know, the quality that made us like him in the first place. Merritt isn’t young anymore, but I don’t think he knows that; and that is one of my biggest problems with the record.
A little maturity would have done this band – or more so Merritt, since this is his show – a load of good. The female fronted songs are a bit more tolerable, but when Merritt gets on with his baritone, I feel awkward listening to him. In general, Realism kinda makes me think of a faculty get-together with a bunch of mid-forties English teachers dancing around, one of them eventually breaking out an acoustic guitar and playing some lame-ass songs he wrote in-between his classes, or during his lunch break after finishing his veggie sandwich ahead of time. The teachers have fun within their group, sure, but once they try to talk to the younger teachers about their gay ol’ time the following day (that is not a pun on Merritt’s sexuality btw), they’re responded to with nods and “Oh, that sounds nice,” to which they reply, “Yeah, you should have been there. We started playing songs and Mike did this thing he wrote called ‘Everything Is One Big Christmas Tree’; it has a chorus in German. It was so funny. Mike is so funny (uh-huh, sure he is).” And while it may have been funny and quirky, it was only funny and quirky to them. That’s the problem with Realism; it’s a pretty hard record to relate to. The music is standard lo-fi acoustic folk-pop, little surprises, and typical of the band. The production isn’t great, and some of the mixes sound a bit boring. But again, it simply comes down to that I cannot relate to Merritt this time around at all. His bitterness was charming and pretty funny on earlier records, but for a guy who recently turned forty-four, it’s starting to carry a Catcher in the Rye-like redundancy. Merritt can do better than this, and he has; there really is no need to listen to this when copies of 69 Love Songs (the album that most of these no synth records seem – and or are trying to resemble) are still floating around. A grown-up Merritt would be interesting to listen to, but this record is stale, boring, and doesn’t do anything lyrically or musically to really draw you in.
Bruce's Grade (Ugh, I really love this band's earlier work, so I hate to do this, but): 4.5/10
What to download: I would have said "Nothing," but I did like one song.
1. Seduced and Abandoned