The Magnetic Fields - Love at the Bottom of the Sea (Merge)

You’ll roll your eyes at toy pianos and mariachi cheese, but Stephin Merritt’s craft still charms

Synthesizers may return to the Magnetic Fields' orbit for their tenth album, but the important variance springs from Stephin Merritt's mood — apparently, the itch to score a Stanley Donen movie. These magnificently-written novelty songs progress nicely from the folk lampoon Realism. You'll roll your eyes along with the toy pianos and mariachi cheese, but Merritt's craft still charms and intimidates. He falls in tail-wagging love on the exhilaratingly blissful "Andrew in Drag," lectures us from a handheld device's perspective, and eventually announces "You're not really a person/More a gadget with meat stuck to it."

Despite the new layers of sarcasm, less guarded emotions often appear in the person of Shirley Simms; she belts out the one about saving yourself for marriage and the heartbroken one about hiring a contract killer. All the while, the Beach Boys Love You keyboards creak along in deadpan, gleefully exposing all Merritt's flighty pop and somber, awkward New Romantic to the sublime indignity we miss whenever he's not around to tell us about horrible parties and the fairies he's run away to join.

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