Love at the Bottom of the Sea sees the Magnetic Fields return to their celebrated sarcastic synthpop style, after their last three albums, went down a more acoustic route. Despite the fact that the band, driven by eternal pessimist, founder and lead singer, Stephin Merritt, has released three albums in the last eight years, they are still remembered for 1999’s epic concept album, 69 Love Songs. Love at the Bottom of the Sea is unlikely to usurp it as the band’s crowning glory, which is alright according to Merritt who recently told the Guardian ‘I will spend the rest of my life living down 69 Love Songs, just as I planned to. It’s fine.’
Despite what the title suggests, Love at the Bottom of the Sea is not a collection of fifteen songs about sex amongst aquatic animals. Instead, it features a range of bizarre and varied topics, from falling in love with a drag queen on ‘Andrew in Drag’ to hanging out with metaphysical beings on ‘I’ve Run Away to Join the Fairies’. On a superficial level, the album is a perfectly pleasant pop album, but on second listen, Merritt’s unique lyrical style presents itself. Album closer ‘All She Cares About is Mariachi’ best exemplifies this as Merritt laments, ‘So go ahead and hire Saatchi & Saatchi/to advertise the sausage in your pants/but all she cares about is Mariachi/and all she ever wants to do is dance.’ Elsewhere, ‘Quick!’ and ‘Your Girlfriend’s Face’ see the band exploit their rediscovery of synthesisers to the full, creating loud, brash pop songs, which though not necessarily enduring classics, are certainly a refreshing change from other songs currently masquerading under the banner of pop.
The record is laced with nostalgic references to childhood, from similarities between First World War song ‘If You Were the Only Girl (In the World)’ and ‘Only Boy in Town’, to the imploring nature of ‘Horrible Party’ ‘take me away from this horrible party and let me go home to Mother’. Sadly, the use of synthesisers means the sincerity of these ideas is somewhat lost, but the juxtaposition of these sentiments with Merritt’s miserable baritone makes Love at the Bottom of the Sea an interesting release. Interesting, but perhaps not enthralling.
-from Issue 248 of Epigram.