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24 customer reviews

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Audio CD, January 15, 2008
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

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.

About the Artist

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

Listen to Samples and Buy MP3s

Songs from this album are available to purchase as MP3s. Click on "Buy MP3" or view the MP3 Album.

Song Title Time Price
  1. Three-Way 3:00$0.99  Buy MP3 
  2. California Girls 3:00$0.99  Buy MP3 
  3. Old Fools 3:00$0.99  Buy MP3 
  4. Xavier Says 2:40$0.99  Buy MP3 
  5. Mr. Mistletoe 2:57$0.99  Buy MP3 
  6. Please Stop Dancing 3:00$0.99  Buy MP3 
  7. Drive on, Driver 2:49$0.99  Buy MP3 
  8. Too Drunk to Dream 2:58$0.99  Buy MP3 
  9. Till the Bitter End 3:02$0.99  Buy MP3 
10. I'll Dream Alone 3:04$0.99  Buy MP3 
11. The Nun's Litany 2:58$0.99  Buy MP3 
12. Zombie Boy 3:03$0.99  Buy MP3 
13. Courtesans 2:59$0.99  Buy MP3 

Product Details

  • Audio CD (January 15, 2008)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #131,601 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Cale E. Reneau on January 14, 2008
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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Greg Cleary on March 4, 2012
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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Daniel E. Fox on February 6, 2008
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.
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By Joseph Broze on November 21, 2008
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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