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Product Details

  • Audio CD (Jan. 15 2008)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • Other Editions: Audio CD  |  LP Record
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #62,434 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

1. Three-Way
2. California Girls
3. Old Fools
4. Xavier Says
5. Mr. Mistletoe
6. Please Stop Dancing
7. "Drive on, Driver"
8. Too Drunk to Dream
9. Till the Bitter End
10. I'll Dream Alone
11. The Nun's Litany
12. Zombie Boy
13. Courtesans

Customer Reviews

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ollie Olugooden on Jan. 24 2008
Format: Audio CD
You'll either really love or detest Magnetic Fields - aka Stephin Merritt and a few hired hands.
Personally, I couldn't get enough of his new and eighth album Distortion.
Certainly you'll not hear anything like this record all year.
Merritt employs no synths - but he'll give you everything from a piano to a cello all bubble wrapped in a spiky Spector-esque wall of sound with layers of feedback, a la his big heroes, Jesus and the Mary Chain.
If you try hard enough, you can hear distorted elements of the distorted piece of musical genius that was Distortion.
It works - the tunes are no more than three minutes long but they turn conventional sounds right on their head.
Standout tracks : 'Three-Way', 'The Nun's Litany', 'Too Drunk to Dream', 'Mr Mistletoe', 'California Girls.
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By Pawel Utko on Aug. 4 2008
Format: Audio CD
After loving songs such as "I dont want to get over you" on the 69 love songs album (I never ended picking up their "i" album) I was excited to listen to their new tracks. What a surprise! Distortion is nothing like what I've heard from the Magnetic Fields, but it was a pleasent surprise!

"Distortion" is unique in exactly that - distortion. All through the album you hear distortion in the background.. something which you'll either love or hate (or maybe both, as in my case). There's also a lot of fun in this album with songs such as "California Girls." Hits include: 'Three-way', 'Please Stop Dancing' and 'The Nun's Litany.'
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By T. Bigney on Jan. 17 2008
Format: Audio CD
With all of Stephin Merritt's cleverness and theatricality, it's easy to forget that the Magnetic Fields started out as an indie pop band. Merritt didn't really establish himself as a widely feted songwriter until 1999's 69 Love Songs, a far-flung compendium spanning acoustic ballads and skittery electro pop tracks. Merritt continued his conceptual unification streak with 2004's i, but that album's all-acoustic approach felt at odds with the songs themselves. (Compare the passable album version of "I Don't Believe You" with the vastly more fun single version.) While the overdone thematic focus of i generally seemed flat and frustrating, Distortion's aesthetic conceit-- conveyed by its title-- is worn well, and its blown-out sound breathes life into a collection of songs that brings together many of the best ideas from Merritt's back catalog.

In the four years since i, Merritt has had plenty of opportunities to indulge his interest in all things theatrical, and that impulse is largely played down on Distortion. Instead, Merritt explores his 1960s pop fetish more directly than he has since the early 90s. Distortion is hardly a retread, though-- its fuzzy production substantially alters the focus and nature of Merritt's music. Opener "Three Way" serves as a straightforward statement of purpose; its simple, surf-y riff is almost unimaginable without a distorted guitar tone. Throughout Distortion, the squelching, tight-focus rhythmic interplay of Merritt's music is blown out into loud, distorted drum beats and smeared guitars, introducing a new level of messy, energizing depth to Merritt's characteristically stately and considered songwriting.

These aesthetic changes resonate emotionally as well, often lending Merritt's music a previously unexplored shambolic melancholy.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 23 reviews
29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Distorted Dreams Jan. 14 2008
By Cale E. Reneau - Published on
Format: Audio CD
The Magnetic Fields have been around for the better part of two decades, keeping fans happy by releasing albums every couple of years. Distortion comes to us a little less than 4 years after the band's previous album, i. Both i and its predecessor, 69 Love Songs, were concept albums, wrapped around a basic idea. It should come as no surprise then that Distortion follows in much the same way. Though there is no thematic ribbon that ties the songs together, the actual album is in fact a mess of distortion and feedback.

It's an odd thing to hear on a Magnetic Fields album. As a band who has made a name for themselves by making stately and generally straightforward music, something as raw and dirty as distortion seems like a mismatch. Surprisingly though, this new element allows the band to explore some previously uncharted territory. 60s pop is the clear sound that Stephin Merritt and his bandmates are going for this time around, with driving and repetitive guitar lines that are catchy in and of themselves. Album opener, "Three-Way," for example, makes for enjoyable song despite the fact that Merritt's trademarked lyrical wit never makes an appearance. It is, rather, guitars, drums, and keyboards that make the song as enjoyable as it is. It is here that we're first greeted with what Distortion promotes with it's title; a decidedly lo-fi sound with blaring mids and a consistent layer of distortion and feedbacking guitars below the music itself.

Despite it being the theme of the album, however, it is also my least favorite part. While songs like "California Girls" and "Please Stop Dancing" undoubtedly benefit from this aesthetic, others like "Old Fools" would seem better suited to a more traditional Magnetic Fields sound. It's kind of a double-edged sword. Just when you hear a song that you absolutely adore, you're greeted with another that just doesn't seem to fit. Even Stephin Merritt, with all his theatrics, seems somewhat out of place on an album as loud and messy as this. And it is, perhaps, for this reason that the album's better moments are sung, not by Merritt, but by Shirley Simms (who can also be heard on past Magnetic Fields albums).

But that itself is more of a minor annoyance than anything else. Despite the fact that some songs don't benefit from the distortion as many others do, each song on Distortion is undeniably catchy and worth listening to. "California Girls" takes a unabashed beach rock riff and turns it into a funny, catchy song. Shirley Simms sings of the subjects, "They breathe coke and they have affairs with each passing rock star." It is not only one of the better tracks on the album, but also the first song you'll undoubtedly find yourself singing along to. "Please Stop Dancing" finds Merritt and Simms trading off on vocals, and the song's steady rhythm just begs for a good toe-tapping or head-bobbbing.

"Drive On, Driver" is a touching, and still catchy ballad sung once again by Simms. The melody is beautifully written, and will definitely please most listeners. "Too Drunk To Dream" is classic Magnetic Fields, and Merritt's shining moment on the album. The beginning of the song cleverly examines the way things always seem better when you're drunk. It's absolutely hysterical. He later sings (in his typical theatrical manner), "I've gotta get too drunk to dream cause dreaming only makes me blue," in what is sure to be yet another sing-along favorite.

Overall, the album is pretty enjoyable and a clear step up from the disappointment that was i. Though Stephen Merritt really takes a back seat to Shirley Simms, Distortion is no less enjoyable because of it. If you can get past all the blaring noise that is consistently going on in the background and deal with the abnormally high mids, I'm convinced that most anybody can find something to enjoy on this album. For fans of Magnetic Fields, it is an absolute must buy. For everyone else, it comes highly recommended.

Key Tracks:
1. "Three-Way"
2. "California Girls"
3. "Please Stop Dancing"
4. "Too Drunk to Dream"
5. "The Nun's Litany"

7 out of 10 Stars
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Metal Machine Merritt March 4 2012
By Greg Cleary - Published on
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Stephin Merritt is so talented that he has to create challenges for himself in order to keep things interesting. When he challenged himself to write 69 love songs, the resulting album was a spectacular success. He followed that up by recording an entire album of songs that began with the letter "I." Arguably, it was another success, albeit on much more modest terms. For "Distortion," he created a challenge of a different kind. This time, the unifying idea was not about the songs themselves, but rather, the recording process. Every track on the album is bathed in reverb, feedback, and distortion.

The idea is not as weird as it sounds. In a way, it is a throwback to the early days of the Magnetic Fields. The first two albums and the "House of Tomorrow" EP also featured a layered electronic sound. Traces of this sound could still be found in "69 Love Songs"--think of "I Don't Want to Get Over You" or "I'm Sorry I Love You." The name of the band even seems to hint at this approach to recording.

On "Distortion," however, the approach is taken to an extreme, and the results are sometimes hard to endure. It doesn't help that the songwriting is not as strong as it is on most Magnetic Fields albums. Half of the songs are sung by Stephin Merritt and the other half by Shirley Simms, and for whatever reason, the Shirley songs are all better than the Stephin songs. A few of the Stephin songs are almost torturous to listen to, particularly "Mr. Mistletoe" and "Zombie Boy," as his deep voice mingles unappealingly with the murky production.

Among the Shirley songs, though, there are a few gems. "The Nun's Litany" is ostensibly just a long list of sexual perversions in which the song's heroine wishes to indulge, and yet it somehow avoids being crass and is actually kind of touching, as she longs to find some kind--ANY kind--of sexual identity. "California Girls" and "Xavier Says" are also supremely catchy and full of bitter humor. The final song, "Courtesans," has a classic melody that any folk songwriter would be proud to write. In this setting, however, it loses some of its impact, in spite of yet another crisp vocal performance by Shirley Simms. Her voice has a way of cutting through all of this sonic weirdness. Maybe this is why Merritt had a female singer handle all of the vocals on the first two Magnetic Fields albums.

Even when this album succeeds, however, it succeeds in spite of the sound, rather than because of it. Which leads to the question: What was the point of all this noisy production anyway? One thing that can be said for it--although it's not exactly a compliment--is that it demands the total attention of the listener. It doesn't work as background music or as an accompaniment to other activities. I listened to it while driving one time and ended up with a slight headache. I don't mind being challenged by music at times, but listening to "Distortion" is a little bit too much like work.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Takes a Risk Feb. 6 2008
By Daniel E. Fox - Published on
Format: Audio CD
I think he took a big risk here by changing his band's sound so drastically. As other reviewers have mentioned, the usual witty lyrics and hook-filled tunes are absolutely drenched in feedback and recorded in a very "low-fi" manner (see: Guided by Voices, Pavement, Jesus and Mary Chain, Sonic Youth, Joy Division, etc.). If I am in the right mood, and I listen to this sucker all the way through, it absolutely wins me over. I love this sound and it does bring back a lot of 90's alt-rock memories for me. And California Girls is hilarious, memorable, snarky, and in a parallel just and fair universe, it would be a #1 song on the pop charts.
Different, and good Dec 12 2008
By CM - Published on
Format: Audio CD
I, for one, love this album. No, it's not "69 Love Songs". Unlike some reviewers, I'm glad that they don't make the same album over and over again. The production is interesting and works well with the songs, which are very strong. I think it's better than their last album, "i". This is change I can believe in!
great LP Nov. 21 2008
By Joseph Broze - Published on
Format: Audio CD
While I am not a Stephin Merritt superfan, this is the fourth Magnetic Fields LP I have bought - "Charm of the Highway Strip" is my personal favorite - and I think it's great. I am surprised by the negative reviews.

Be forewarned I guess to all Magnetic Fields fans...this is basically traditional MF songs amped up with a heavy dose of feedback/noise ala The Jesus & Mary Chain. Some might not like it, I think it's a welcome change for the dude - although there are alot of bands playing this style right now, which is fine by me! See Raveonettes, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, A Place To Bury Strangers, Ceremony, Vandelles, Crystal Stilts, Vivian Girls, Manhattan Love Suicides, Glasvegas, etc.

The songs might get a bit repetitive but that doesn't really bother me. The standout songs are: California Girls (amazing!), Drive on Driver, Too Drunk To Dream, etc.

Overall: don't expect this too sound like any other Magnetic Fields record. It's just a really noisy version of MF. If you can't handle that, you might want to stay away. I love it!

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