I’ve always considered The Magnetic Fields somewhere halfway between The Cure and Belle and Sebastian. After all, Stephen Merritt has made a pretty successful career out of balancing pristine low-fidelity pop and folk songs with cut electronic loops, forming albums not distinctly pointed towards digital or analog, but using the most beautiful elements of both genres to create music more timeless then most material pointed specifically in one direction or the other.
i, his latest album, has abandoned the breezy qualities of his previous work for a more polished hi-fi sound that almost entirely rids itself of any semblance of the electronic pieces that gave his other albums their flavor. The results are mixed and sometimes downright boring—with nothing to spice up his arrangements, some of Merritt’s songs resemble a blank-faced reflection in the mirror. His ear for melody and arrangement—still evident here—saves the album from being entirely useless, but unfortunately isn’t enough on its own to hold i up to the standards we’ve previously held Merritt to.
That his latest album is mired in gimmick (like his previous, 69 Love Songs—every song on his latest begins with the titular letter) doesn’t make things easier to swallow, and that he focuses on the most egocentric letter in the alphabet (“I Wish I Had an Evil Twin,” “I Die”) might lead the listener into, simply, not giving a shit after a while. Merritt claims that he hasn’t run out of gas, that the more standard sound on his latest was truly his inspiration. Well, to steal the title from one of the tracks found here, “I Don’t Believe You.”