Stephen Merritt’s throwaway romantic lyrics and sentimental ’80s pop cheese have always been best interpreted by the man himself, and Distortion is maybe the strongest argument yet for that rule. Heartbreakers like “Old Fools” and “I’ll Dream Alone” are great additions to the Magnetic Fields’ collection of dopey, brilliant sap, but when Merritt steps away from the microphone, the album gets forgettable. The delivery in “California Girls” drifts close to Weird Al’s territory, and “Courtesans” fails to climax. Predictably unfocused, Distortion features roughly the same bad song/good song ratio of 69 Love Songs, but since we only get 13 tracks here, that only amounts to about four good songs.
Juno: Original Soundtrack
This is the soundtrack for the hipster girls left cold by the sparkly pop sheen of Natalie Portman’s playlists in Garden State. While Juno probably swaps the Shins for Belle and Sebastian here, the inclusion of Sonic Youth, the Velvet Underground, and especially former Moldy Peach Kimya Dawson, gives this soundtrack some DIY credibility. Aside from the occasional bit of acceptably obscure classic rock (the Kinks’ “A Well Respected Man,” Mott the Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes”), this mix is all about Dawson’s no-fi sounds of feigned innocence, cinematic only in hipster indie films with no special effects.
Robert Plant and
If Raising Sand’s current hotspot on the amazon.com sales charts or its mention in a recent Rolling Stone issue as one of the best-sounding albums of 2007 won’t convince you that this retread of old R&B, folk, and Tom Waits numbers isn’t just some cash grab by aging artists for the aging Starbucks crowd, well, listening to it might not fully convince you of it either. There’s nothing really wrong with this album. Krauss, carrying most of the tunes, sounds just fine, but Plant, huskier sounding than you might remember him, mostly hangs out in the back, relying on his partner for the bulk of the heavy lifting, enough to make you wonder just how good that Led Zeppelin reunion show really could’ve sounded. •