”The only girl I’ll ever love is Andrew in drag,” Stephin Merritt sings on The Magnetic Fields‘ uproarious new single. The song sounds a bit like a droll echo of the ’70’s disco hit ”Saturday Night” by the Bay City Rollers – without the spelling lesson. But as fun as the music is, it’s the comically clever wordplay that really sells it. The gay Merritt rhymes ”drag” with ”fag” and ”stag” in one verse; ”brag” and ”Jag” in another. And then comes the kicker: ”I’ll never see that girl again, he did it as a gag; I’ll pine away forever more for Andrew in drag.”
Yes, Merritt is a rhyming fool. The type of person who could write an interesting, coherent song about seemingly anything – and create rhymes out of whole cloth to boot. In the last track of his band’s amusing new album Love At The Bottom of the Sea, Merritt manages to find words to rhyme with ”mariachi”: ”Hibachi,” ”Liberace” and – are you ready? – ”Saatchi & Saatchi.” And yes, he does it in a way that still makes sense. In short, light the grill, style your hair, advertise the size of your endowment – it won’t matter. ”All she cares about is mariachi,” he sings, on the lightly mariachi-spiced tune.
It’s only been two years since the last album from the Magnetic Fields, which includes Claudia Gonson, Sam Davol, John Woo and Shirley Simms. But Love at the Bottom of the Sea is the first synth-based set since 1999’s brilliant 69 Love Songs. The new set isn’t nearly as sharp or captivating as that opus, but it is the best thing from the Fields since then. This time, the songs revolve around the loose theme of ill-fated love, be it delayed, bad, misguided, misplaced or sunken.
The lyrical wordplay can get a bit too precious here and there. And then there’s the problem with the wide-ranging music, which too often seems secondary and just not nearly as stunning as the lyrics. Many songs don’t sustain the initial lyrical appeal, becoming something of a novelty.
But ”Andrew In Drag” is far from the only gem out of 15 songs, all under three minutes. ”I’d Go Anywhere With Hugh” is, as one verse puts it, a ”sad gavotte,” a clever, complicated French dance about an unrequited love triangle. ”Infatuation (With Your Gyration)” channels the Human League as well as the New Pornographers in its ode to the dance floor.
The electro-popper ”Your Girlfriend’s Face” is a smart summation of the downward spiral of crystal methamphetamine – with the metaphor of a woman plotting revenge, hiring a ”hit man” for her ex. ”In the evenings I’ve devised your death,” Gonson sings, ”Being buried alive on crystal meth.”
Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
Download These: ”Andrew In Drag,” ”Your Girlfriend’s Face”