After the Herculean epic that was 69 Love Songs, The Magnetic Fields were due a rest. A mere five years later they offered up a splendid and economical follow up in the shape of i, a smaller album on a smaller theme, the theme being the ninth letter of the alphabet. Yep that’s right, all fourteen songs begin with the letter I, and to top it all they are arranged in alphabetical order and enjoys a unifying dynamic that few albums can boast. Now that’s clever.
Many of the tracks of i are similar in style to much of the material that made up 69 Love Songs, but as that was such a splendid album, there are no complaints from me. The big difference in with this new material is that synthesisers, long the back bone of Stephin Merritt’s writing, have been abandoned, indeed the CD booklet proudly notes this fact. How very early Queen.
Song wise it’s a small but perfectly formed affair, with tracks as diverse as “I Don’t Believe You”, “I Don’t Really Love You Anymore”, “I Thought You Were My Boyfriend” and “It’s Only Time” showing that Merritt and Co are quite happy to continue the mini-genre hopping that they perfected on their previous album, there’s even another show tune indebted number in the sprightly “In An Operetta”. The writing is as strong as ever and given the open-endedness of the theme Merritt can pursue any notion that his muse desires.
After the massive 69 Love Songs there must have been huge pressure on Merritt to come up with a suitable follow up, so the fact that i is so short, yet the material is of a high quality neatly sidesteps this. While the brevity of the album may leave some fans feeling hard done by, especially given the five year wait, after the excess which had gone before, to release an album that could be comfortably consumed within one sitting was a smart move.
A short refreshing blast.