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iTunes Review

For Magnetic Fields songwriter Stephin Merritt, there’s always an overriding concept at work. It keeps him interested and despite all their quirks, the songs stand on their own for a quick, easy listen. Yet, underneath the surface lurks an adventurous lyricist whose narrators are often vain, self-absorbed, brutally sarcastic, messing with your mind and occasionally glad to see you. Realism concerns Merritt’s love for folk music and its need to be “real.” In its place, Merritt orchestrates a perfectly plastic world where acoustic instruments tinker away (look ma, no synths!) and Claudia Gonson and Shirley Simms offer a beautifully sunny disposition reminiscent of the free-flowing pop of the Free Design. ”You Must Be Out Of Your Mind” is standard Magnetic Fields with Merritt’s baritone croak demanding subservience. “Seduced and Abandoned” throws the horns and banjo into a German drinking song with debts to Tin Pan Alley. “The Dada Polka” addresses “people of Earth” with a catchy chorus. “Painted Flower” and “Always Already Gone” evoke rainy day Parisian pop with perfection.

Customer Reviews

A quiet tour-de-force

If you enjoyed "i" and "Distortion," you will certainly find more to love here. "Realism" is the easiest listening experience of all three, gliding by almost effortlessly in 35 minutes. It's especially refreshing after the murkiness of "Distortion"--with "Realism," the instrumentation and vocals are crisp, clear, and immaculate. In addition to Merritt's much-loved wit as a lyricist, his mastery of complex musical arrangements is on full display. The combination of both can elevate a throwaway romp like "We Are Having a Hootenanny" into a gem. "Realism" is a folk-inspired "variety album" that is remarkably consistent in its fine craftsmanship, from polkas and tea parties to vampires and shipwrecks. There's multiple layers of sound and meaning beneath the deceptively transparent title and a high degree of musical and lyrical dexterity structuring what might initially sound light or superficial.

A few highlights: "You Must Be Out of Your Mind" (an instant classic), "The Doll's Tea Party" (Zsa Zsa and Xavier before the operetta sans alcohol), "Seduced and Abandoned" (the morning after "The Night You Can't Remember"), "The Dada Polka" (the Merritt hokey-pokey?), and "From a Sinking Ship" ("The Things We Did and Didn't Do" with no "Desert Island" in sight).

Pretty Damn Good

In response to the bad reviews for this album, there is a REASON you seem to think this album is so bad. As a counterpart to "Distortion," this album lacks any synths at all. The idea was for all the music to be actually PLAYED by the band. Not something we expect from The Magnetic Fields, or Steven Merrit, for that matter, eh?
That being said, this album is great. As good or better than "Distortion." It's a lot softer, and cleaner, but no less witty, which is what we REALLY love about the Magnetic Fields, isn't it? Because that's the intention.

I wish I didn't buy this.

This is the worst Magnetic Fields album out there, and I really like the Magnetic Fields. I don't know why people are comparing it to Distortion, because Distortion is a great album. This album is not worth the money, had I been able to listen to it before I pre-ordered it, i never would have wasted 9.99. It's just a plodding, boring, uninteresting album.


Formed: 1990 in Boston, MA

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

The Magnetic Fields may be a bona fide band, but in most essential respects they are the project of studio wunderkind Stephin Merritt, who writes, produces, and (generally) sings all of the material. Merritt also plays many of the instruments, concocting a sort of indie pop-synth rock. While the Magnetic Fields' albums draw upon the electronic textures of vintage acts like ABBA, Kraftwerk, Roxy Music with Eno, Joy Division, and Gary Numan, Merritt's vision is far more pointed toward the alternative...
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