2008 album from singer/songwriter Stephin Merritt and co. Distortion features the brilliant melodies and wry lyrics that Merritt has long been praised for, but, as the album title suggests, he serves them up with a twist. If the late, great Cole Porter had somehow been resurrected just in time to appear at the Coachella Indie Rock fest, the results might sound something like this: small, ironic tales of love and woe startlingly enveloped in layers of live feedback that recall the noisy Pop provocations of legendary Scottish quartet The Jesus and Mary Chain. As album producer, Merritt takes a completely novel approach to his deployment of feedback, going well beyond mere fuzzed-out guitar to incorporate cello, piano and accordion into his mad-scientist mix. What he's conjured up is a gorgeous drone that reverberates over the length of 13 tunes. It's like hearing a great three-minute Pop classic from someone else's car radio in the middle of a traffic jam: melodic bliss surfacing above the din.
Fans of the Jesus and Mary Chain will surely be thrilled with Distortion
, which lives up to its title in the first few seconds of the jovial opener, "Three Way." The entire album is awash in a bed of feedback and noise sharp enough to match bandleader/Svengali Stephen Merritt's notoriously wry lyrical jabs. In its willful obfuscation of simple melodies, Distortion
recalls MF's earlier, more electronic, more reverb-soaked output. Of course, Merritt's songs could probably work with any arrangement, cacophonous or otherwise. His lyrics and succinct melodies survive the treatment, and his inner Cole Porter remains intact. "California Girls" features regular collaborator Shirley Simms cheerily plotting a battle-axe attack on some of the more blonde and plastic elements of California society (Simms handles vocal duties on about half the tunes here). "Mr. Mistletoe" is an anti-carol with a forlorn Merritt attaching his romantic betrayal to various holiday symbols. "Too Drunk to Dream" is classic Merritt, with an upbeat but down-on-its-luck refrain: "I gotta get too drunk to dream / Because I only dream of you." Drenched in distortion, MF's now-expected acoustic instruments--cello, piano, accordion--create some remarkable textures. Merritt and crew remain full of songs and surprises, and in finding their ability to make a ruckus, have created an inarguably singular offering. --Jason Pace