Review Summary: we are having a hootenanny now.
Easy as it would be to herald Realism
a classic album and a cornerstone of irony at that, I won’t for fear of Merritt basing his next concept album around cynicism for me. Optimism
, he’d call it, and there it’d be: the band’s upside-down logo columned next me, a head-over-heels in excitement stick figure who doesn’t know what to do with himself – I’d probably be giving out 69 Love Songs
in some sort of realised monumental act, too. Merritt would get back to his baritone, and every song would be just as scathing as the past nine records and just as usual – his commentary simply never stales.
That assessment definitely continues into 2010, with Merritt more onto his own game than ever. So disarming in analytic is the album that a second spin is the least that can be done to become immune to its psycho-therapy, which is even more disarming still. It’s impossible to call off the satire of the album when the opener is as devastating with words as it is, just as it is impossible that any knowing fan will ever take Merritt’s woe without a pinch of salt. How about “You can’t just go round saying stuff/ ‘cause it sounds pretty”
to cross-reference, scrutinize and write off every sentimental song you’ve ever heard, up to and including “We Are Having a Hootenanny”, just two songs after this on the very same record? It’s incredible that Merritt can caution and hurt as devastatingly as he could when he started two decades ago, and even better that he is still here to warn us of the dangerous connection between person and song: “You think you can simply press rewind?”
We will anyway.
is as any Merritt album in that it comes to blows with itself: here is a modern classic, strutting with all the irony of Indie superstars, but presented with yet another super-secret layer - that of cynicism that comes disguised in the form of a psych folk history lesson, full to the brim with gorgeous melodies and quirks to boot. “We Are Having a Hootenanny” is a glittery acoustic song that, even with words that celebrate opposites’ day every day, sits content in its crazy paradox as to whether it is working under the guise of a Merritt of declaration or a Merritt with nothing to declare – it’s definitely a hootenanny, but one that questions the time and place of hootenannies. At the same time, however, it is a trippy sing along and an exuberant choir of voices back its cause with so much conviction it’s hard not to feel at home with a campfire. Similarly does “I Don’t Know What To Say” twinkle even in its sadness, much in a similar way that “Alone Again Or” was break-up apathy from 60s psychedelic darlings Love. It feels like Merritt has gone out discovering to create his self-proclaimed “folk” album and left the rest up to the fan’s knowing thoughts: in that case, everything is a double-entendre. If you haven’t worked that out and laughed along by “Everything Is One Big Christmas Tree” (a title basically autobiographical of Merritt’s career, but also hard to separate from a festive playlist for December), you’re probably too busy singing along and playing games with Realism
. It is for music alone an album all too spontaneous not to become immersed in, with every nook and cranny pouring out of the corners of songs, be it baroque pop noises or sparkling piano notes.
Merritt struggled over the twinning of his 2010 effort with its predecessor Distortion
in the dilemma of which was 'true' and which was 'false', but in claiming to be clueless as to which word fits which album, he has summed himself up perfectly. The joy in Realism
is simply found in how Merritt finds it all too easy to overdo misery and even the antidote to misery – it’s hard to tell whether he feels more contempt for the wallowing (“I was made for better things/better days”
) or the clowning (“Stop mumbling and cheer up”
). Such is the seamless character of the ninth album from music’s driest protagonist/antagonist – where people all over would gladly fall for lines such as “You said you were in love with me/both of us know that is impossible
” on the break-up with romance that was 69 Love Songs
, the album that shares and critiques eleven years on is preaching to sceptics. Realism
is beautifully predictable, Merritt’s hyperbole normalised and put on our terms – terms which can have a song put a song on repeat for thirty rounds before there’s need to ask questions. The Magnetic Fields may be laughing at us, but the last one is on them – we are laughing along.