Support Local Journalism. Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club.

CD Review: The Magnetic Fields 

Realism (Nonesuch)

Stephin Merritt rarely steps into the studio with his rotating collective the Magnetic Fields without a concept. His greatest thematic work is 1999's 69 Love Songs, a three-disc release exploring the subject in all its melancholy splendor and dysfunctional perfection. Merritt's last go-round with his band, 2008's atypical Distortion, is a wildly noisy homage to the Jesus and Mary Chain's frenetic sonic blur. For the new Realism, Merritt goes to the other end of the spectrum by placing 13 tracks in a baroque-pop/psych-folk framework. Inspired by the late '60s British folk scene, when producers and artists were mesmerized by the trippy sounds of contemporary rock, Merritt writes his new songs in the era's many-faceted context — from the sparsely orchestrated toy-piano naiveté of "From a Sinking Boat" and "The Dolls' Tea Party" to the more baroque modernity of "You Must Be Out of Your Mind."

Although Merritt invests Realism with '60s folk and '70s psych-pop, his charmingly acidic lyrical approach is intact ("You can't go round just saying stuff/Because it's pretty/And I no longer drink enough/To think you're witty" from "You Must Be Out of Your Mind"). Occasionally, Merritt follows '60s folk a little too closely: Realism's 33-minute length reflects vinyl's 16-minute-per-side structure, and the Far East-flecked "I Don't Know What to Say" fades just as the track hits its stride — intentionally, since it ends before the song's protagonist can say the dreaded three words he knows he should say. Nevertheless, Realism is another reflective and beautifully rendered concept piece from Merritt. — Brian Baker

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club for as little as $5 a month.

Read the Digital Print Issue

December 1, 2021

View more issues

Most Popular

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.


Staff Pick Events

  • We Banjo 3 @ The Kent Stage

    • Sun., Dec. 5
  • Greg Morton @ Hilarities Comedy Club

    • Sun., Dec. 5
  • Open Turntable Tuesday @ The Winchester

    • Tuesdays

© 2021 Cleveland Scene: 737 Bolivar Rd., Suite 4100, Cleveland, OH 44115, (216) 505-8199
Logos and trademarks on this site are property of their respective owners.

Website powered by Foundation