The Magnetic Fields

i (Nonesuch)

Stephin Merritt isn't a genius; i proves it. Sure, the Magnetic Fields' seventh long-player sounds great -- a determinedly non-synthesized, proto-classical layering of cello, banjo, harpsichord, piano, etc. -- but the giddy thrill of previous offerings is missing. Here's a guy who had the cojones to release 69 love songs, to use Thai prostitutes as a romantic metaphor, to speak unabashedly about man-man love, and now he seems content penning semiclever melodramas for the suburban theater crowd. Being this generation's Oscar Wilde and Cole Porter, Merritt can't not be clever -- "I Wish I Had an Evil Twin" could be the Bush daughters' anthem -- but there's often an air of tippy-toed nervousness, as if he were trying to be witty andnon-threatening. Rather than Porter, he comes off like Andrew Lloyd Webber, hemmed in by his surroundings, a phantom haunting his own soap opera.

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