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There's A Little Bit Of Stephin Merritt In All Of Us

By Veronica Murtagh in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 5, 2010 6:20PM

photo by Marcelo Krasilcic, via The Magnetic Fields' MySpace
On "You Must Be Out of Your Mind," the lead track on the Magnetic Fields' newest and tenth career release, Stephin Merritt croons aloofly, "You can't go around just saying stuff because it's pretty". Merritt has made a career, and built a public personality, around his curious ability to issue profound truths about the human condition with a bored and flippant demeanor.

Across Merritt's nearly two decade career as the creative mind behind The Magnetic Fields, he's never been one say anything "because it's pretty". And that's precisely why his words have come to mean to much, to so many people. The Magnetic Field's 1999 triple disc 69 Love Songs was an album Merritt always claimed to never be about love, but about love songs. Merritt must have known then how many emotive moments illustrating the many faces of love would come to be experienced with 69 Love Songs as the soundtrack. He isn't a musician who needs to over intellectualize words or song structures to relay a resounding and connective message.

For the third and final chapter in The Magnetic Fields' synth-less album series, Merritt chooses the all too appropriate title Realism. More than ever, Merritt's vocals feel less like songs and more like personal conversations. Merritt is snarky and wry atop lullaby accompaniment. It's the same off-kilter balance that's been long ingrained in The Magnetic Fields' compositions, but ramped up, with lovelier instrumentation and cockier lyrics. Merritt's words pack a sting across Realism, but magically we just follow our leader closer, hanging on the words we've all wanted to say, even if we've been too shy or just plain polite to utter them with conviction in our own lives. There's no candy coating to Stephin Merritt, a man who'll continue to impart welcome insight through dry realism for as long as he continues to make music.

The Magnetic Fields with Laura Barrett, Sunday, March 7 and Monday, March 8 at Millennium Park's Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph, 7:30 p.m., Tickets $30-$35 here.