Review Summary: come and collectively scoff at musical idealism – Realism, the ultimate parody.Realism
is a strange record. It was love at first sight and divorce on the third listen; re-united after a separation but still arguing at the seventh. After squeezing it through my Merritt infected mind without rest, I’m still yet to determine how I truly feel about the Magnetic Fields’ ninth album. At times I’m astounded that Merritt still manages to procure ideas for songs, how his wit and lyrical delicacy has not floundered in almost twenty years. On the other hand, moments in Realism
annoy the fu
ck out of me, inspiring deep in my heart an urge to hurriedly press skip. As preposterous as it may sound, perhaps this is entirely Merritt’s intention – Realism
is as realistic an entity as can be fathomed. Eschewing the simplistic themes of past albums, Realism
propounds thirteen songs that represent Merritt’s complete maturation, a concept based around the realistic flavour of human emotion. Now you could look at this through my eyes and consider the metaphysical properties of the record, how they’re fundamentally significant in the context of all Merritt’s work and propose a genuine parody of pop music, or you could simply see it is a Merritt making a bland album – several good songs, a few average, and a couple of real duds. Your love of the Magnetic Fields will determine whether you like this album or not. As a self-proclaimed Merritt-obsessive, even I struggled with Realism
, but naturally, as with all Merritt’s work, the countless listens have undoubtedly payed off. It makes sense
, and from here on in I will be assuming that any and all interpretations of the record have passed through a similarly rigorous dissection.
Opener ‘You Must Be Out of Your Mind’ is easily one of the best tracks Merritt has ever written, and immediately throws the album to light with its dry humour and subtle malice. Its appeal is spontaneous, something which is in stark contrast to the album overall – apart from odd tracks such as ‘Seduced and Abandoned’, the majority of the record needs time to sink in and flourish. The chirpy ‘We Are Having a Hootenanny’ comes in third after two excellent songs, and it is possibly the worst Magnetic Fields song I have ever heard. It’s indubitably grown on me, and my feelings of vehemence towards its country-inspired everyone-in-the-world-is-happy aesthetic took many a listen to subside. I still hate the song, but with the intention of this review in my mind I’m able to appreciate it in the wider context of Realism
. What really defines this ninth Magnetic Fields recording is the disparate energy between its songs – while this feeling has existed on all of Merritt’s albums, Realism
takes it to the point that songs are so different, those who love some are likely to hate others. This creates a contrasting atmosphere with the whole record in mind, and ultimately a musical representation of what ‘realism’ may really mean.
What is disappointing about Realism
however, is the prevalence of ineffectual lyrics – while Merritt thrives on both simple and poignant songs, the simplicity on many of Realism
’s tracks can be overwhelming, almost defeating the poignancy Merritt so often achieves with no effort whatsoever. Needless to say, I know that as I continue to unravel Realism
beyond what I needed to for the sake of this review, more and more solace will be found between the album’s beginning and end. As a collection of lo-fi pop songs, Realism
may certainly seem more insipid than it is (not that I think it is). The album harkens back to Merritt’s earlier albums with tracks like ‘Interlude’, and constantly drives an organic atmosphere throughout its playing time – this latter point not needing further elaboration in respect to the album’s ‘realistic’ concept. While it may seem that this is Merritt wallowing in the shallows after declining from the peak that was 69 Love Songs
is just as significant as both Distortion
. It certainly is not an album that makes an appropriate introduction to the Magnetic Fields, and it does need a particular degree of determination on behalf of the listener, but it still is a testament to the fact that Merritt simply cannot make a bad record. It’s unfortunate that the album will be underappreciated by fans and new listeners alike, but Realism
marks the natural direction Merritt has taken and probably will continue to take with his music, a development that is incorporated into the Magnetic Fields flux and remains ever-changing, ever-guiding and ever so brilliant. Realism
is effectively the ultimate parody – where the idealism of pop music is an inescapable characteristic, Merritt proves time and again throughout his musical career that he abides by no pop guideline, saucing witty realisms in every lyric he pens. Realism
is the progression of this fundamental aspect of Merritt’s music into conceptual form, an album that fully embodies his caricature of pop music. With lyrics like his, the satirical standing of the album cannot be underestimated.
You want what you turned off turned on.
You call it sunset now it's dawn.
You can't go round just saying stuff,
because it's pretty.
And I no longer drink enough,
to think you're witty
If you think you can leave the past behind,
you must be out of your mind.
You think you can simply press rewind,
you must be out of your mind.