Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Magnetic Fields: Distortion [Nonesuch, 2008]
Because this time the object of Stephin Merritt's formal affection is rock 'n' roll noise, there's always a whiff of crude emotion in the deliberately simple tunes he's fitted to the task. The joke songs about topless nuns and zigzagging drag queens are as humanizing in their way as the tales of lost love one might take literally if someone else was singing them (which sometimes someone else is: Miss Shirley Simms). Whether he's wallowing putrescently with his zombie boy or dreaming alone in his soul-death monotone, Merritt's commitment to vernacular genres, the joke included, seems warm compared to the mix-and-match subgenre-splitting even the most lyrical young indie types don't know better than. The sly bastard believes in love after all. He's made a novelty record that gets deeper with time. A