Following up arguably the greatest triple album in the history of popular song must have taken it’s toll on Stephin Merritt, but with 2004’s i being as conceptually smart-arse as it’s predecessor, if somewhat less of an epic investment in time, it was becoming obvious that Merritt was getting fond of themes in general.
So what move to make next? Merritt has a loyal fanbase that will buy almost anything he releases, rather than a mercenary global fanbase, so his options must have been pretty open. As a thematically diverse bunch of tunes drenched in reverb and / or distortion this album works just fine, and given that Distortion’s immediate predecessors were thematically linked by emotion and a letter of the alphabet respectively, perhaps it was only right that the next theme should be sonic.
Whatever the case, Distortion suffers from being a little less consistent than both 69 Love Songs and i. While “Three-Way” is as thrillingly filthy as a semi-instrumental about menage-a-trois is going to be and “The Nun’s Litany” is almost laugh-out-loud funny, some tunes are a little more limp and fall short of the greatness we had perhaps started unfairly expect from Merritt, such as “Xavier Says”, and album closer “Courtesans”. Of course it wouldn’t be a Magnetic Fields album without at least two fried-gold classics, and with the utterly fantastic “Please Stop Dancing” and the even better singalong “Too Drunk to Dream”, he provided two more unarguable highlights to his book of timelessly brilliant tunes.
Distortion is one of the more uneven Magnetic Fields albums, but it’s no disaster either. The fact that it doesn’t reach the level of their two best albums certainly doesn’t mean that it’s a disgrace.