Realism – In Depth

Some months ago, The Magnetic Fields released a new record called Realism. I briefly wrote about it, with the intention to go back and write something more in depth. We’ve now come to that point.

Song: You Must Be Out Of Your Mind
Sung by: Stephin Merritt & Claudia Gonson
Favourite lyric: “I no longer drink enough to think you’re witty.”

You think I’ll run, not walk to you
Why would I want to talk to you?
I want you crawling back to me
Down on your knees, yeah
Like an appendectomy
Sans anesthesia

If you think you can leave the past behind
You must be out of your mind
If you think you can simply press rewind
You must be out of your mind, son
You must be out of your mind

You want what you turned off turned on
You call it sunset, now it’s dawn
You can’t go round just saying stuff
Because it’s pretty
And I no longer drink enough
To think you’re witty…

You want to kindle that old flame
I don’t remember your real name
It must be something scandalous
Lurks in your shallows
If you need a Santa Claus
To buy your gallows…

Stephin and co. introduce the audience to this new Magnetic Fields record with “You Must Be Out Of Your Mind.” A love song, by Stephin Merritt, who would’ve thought? A bitter love song, by Stephin Merritt, SHOCKING! John Woo’s guitar work is fabulous, he creates this very textured layer to the song which accents it perfectly, while Sam Davol’s cello is the sonic thrust of the song. The song is layered heavily with instrumentation, that months later you’ll still be discovering.

This is as good as it gets, and with Stephin Merritt, that’s perfection.

Song: Interlude
Sung by: Shirley Simms
Favourite lyric: “He will fall in love, poor fellow.”

The moon-blue rays of magical light
Festoon her face this beautiful night
The moon her only lover
But soon even that will be over

So they climb high
In the violet sky
And they dance
And he’ll whisper
All his mysteries to her
As they dance

He will fall
In love,
Poor fellow
Just when all
Above
Turns yellow
And the dawn breaks his heart…

Someone loving the moon in a Stephin Merritt song?!?!? Let’s start by saying that Shirley Simms is the perfect vocalist to sing this song. I can’t imagine anyone better suited for it. Sadly, It’s not a very good song. It’s a bit too airy.

Song: We Are Having A Hootenanny
Sung by: Stephin, et al
Favourite lyric:  “If’n”

We are havin’ a hootenanny now
We are havin’ a hootenanny now
Do-si-do down
To our hoedown
Our rootin’-tootin’ hootenanny
Havin’ a hootenanny now

Come and take our personality quiz
Come and take our personality quiz
Get the lowdown
On our hoedown
We’ll tell you where it is,
If’n you take our personality quiz

There’ll be somebody there who understands
There’ll be somebody there who understands
They won’t eat you
They will greet you
And gaze into your eyes and
There’ll be somebody there who understands

We are havin’ a hootenanny now…

So what can you say about this song? It’s bloody brilliant. From rising piano intro, to the drawn out Zs, to the accordion1, to the fabulous double-tracked banjo. Okay, so this isn’t the greatest song in the world, but it’s a fun romp.

Song: I Don’t Know What To Say
Sung by: Stephin
Favourite lyric: “I could say I want you, that would be a bore. Maybe in a font you haven’t seen before.”

I don’t know what to say…

I could say I want you,
That would be a bore
Maybe in a font you
Haven’t seen before
I could say I’ll haunt you
Till your dying day
I could tease and taunt you,
But what would I say?

See, I don’t know what to say…

I could say I crave you
Still, you little brat
I could rant and rave, you
Know I can do that
I could say I gave you
Everything I have
I could say I’ll save you
You might think me mad

So I don’t know what to say…

I could try and lead you
Down the garden path
I could say I’ll feed you
You can do the math
I could say I need you
Offer you a ring
I’ll be guaranteed you
Don’t believe a thing…

I could try and shove you
Off the nearest cliff
I could say I lo…

I don’t know what to say about this song. There are bits and pieces of it that I really like, and bits that… not so much. I don’t like the sudden fade out at the end, I much prefer the sudden stop when performed live, but honestly, why bother? What’s the point of this. I can’t see Merritt fading out mid-verse without a specific reason, but I don’t know what it is. Do you? Is he singing about the endless cycle of torture in a relationship? I do enjoy Simms’ autoharp.

Song: The Dolls’ Tea Party
Sung by: Claudia Gonson
Favourite lyric: “The cakes are why everyone’s there. They’re not dietetic in any way.”

At the dolls’ tea part we fritter away
The long afternoon of a long summer day
With extended pinkies and pink cloisonné
Cups and saucers and pots and a Liberty tray
That’s why we take our tea
At the dolls’ tea party

At the dolls’ tea party we twitter along
We prattle and tattle on who’s done whom wrong
On who’s in, who’s out, and who’s the best at mah-jongg
Oh, and where to buy fabulous things for a song
That’s why we take our tea
At the dolls’ tea party

But the cakes!
Ah, the cakes are why
Everyone’s there
They’re not dietetic in any way
Dare
To try one and you’ll have a few pounds to spare
Try another one
What do you care?

At the dolls’ we’re all in our glittering best
There will be a test
On who’s best
And worst dressed
But we won’t have it said we’re fashion-obsessed
We’re just prettier ladies than most of the rest
That’s why we take our tea
At the dolls’ tea party.

Oddly enough, I think Merritt’s baritone would be better to suit this song. Gonson sings this very prim and proper, where as I think Merritt could sing this better with more earnest and emotional depth.

Song: Everything Is One Big Christmas Tree
Sung by: Stephin, and big burly German men
Favourite lyric: “Nein, vielleicht ist Allest nicht ein Traum. Ist Alles ein Albtraum? Nicht, nicht! Alles ist ein großer Tannenbaum. Rotierend im Weltraumgeschichte. La la la la la la. La la la la la la.”

Everything is one big Christmas tree
All got up with lights and candy
All the world is turning prettily
Everyone’s awaiting Sandy
Stop mumbling and cheer up
Put down the book, pick beer up

Why sit in your dark and lonely room?
Must your every word be sincere?
Here’s a vial of laughing gas perfume
See that people smile when you’re near
If they don’t like you screw them
Don’t leave your fortune to them

Nein, vielleicht ist Allest nicht ein Traum
Ist Alles ein Albtraum? Nicht, nicht!
Alles ist ein großer Tannenbaum
Rotierend im Weltraumgeschichte
La la la la la la
La la la la la la

Everything is one big Christmas tree
All got up with lights and candy
All the world is turning prettily
Everyone’s awaiting sandy
Where can that Sandy be?…

I’m not very fond of Christmas, you know, that whole, not being Christian thing. However, I dare anyone not to like this song. A group of what can only be big burly German men singing “la la la la la la” happily is one of life’s great joys. Where can that Sandy be?2

Song: Walk A Lonely Road
Sung by: Stephin with Claudia
Favourite lyric:

When I was a little boy
Way out in the the wood
I had neither friend nor toy
Never knew I could
When I found this lonely road
Off I walked for good
When I was a little boy
Way out in the wood

Walk a lonely road with me
I will walk with you
Half as lonely we will be
When we walk as two
If the road goes straight uphill
We’ll admire the view
Walk a lonely road with me
I will walk with you

When I was a little girl
On the lonesome plain
I had neither pal nor pearl
Mostly wind and rain
One day I set out along
A little winding lane
When I was a little girl
On the lonesome plain…

This song really does nothing for me. I do like Stephin’s voice in it, however.

Song: Always Already Gone
Sung by: Shirley
Favourite lyric: You took all the freedom you needed from me.

I tried hard to keep you
I needn’t have tried
It seems you’d decided
When did you decide?
So this is the last time
I cry in the dawn
It seems you were always
Always already gone

You never were happy
You had to be free
You took all the freedom
You needed from me
Then you and your freedom
Flew thither and yon
You’re free to be always
Always already gone

I couldn’t have dreamed you
But I might as well
You leave me with only
A story to tell
But at the beginning
Our story is done
Because you were always
Always already gone…

I think this song perfectly demonstrates my theory that Shirley Simms sings like a robot. Yet it works really well for this song. Much like many Stephin Merritt songs, it’s about the destruction of a relationship. There’s a lovely little banjo bit between the second and third verses. Overall, a really pretty, and depressing song. Not Merritt’s best work, but damn good. Wouldn’t be too out of place on 69 Love Songs.

Song: Seduced and Abandoned
Sung by: Stephin
Favourite lyric:  “Seduced with a grin, I was taken all in; taken in sin and in shame.”

Seduced and abandoned and baby makes two,
Baby, abandoned by you
Seduced and abandoned and what can I do?
I think I might drink a few

Seduced with a grin,
I was taken all in
Taken in sin
And in shame
Seduced by a smile,
I walked down the aisle,
Then waited awhile;
No one came…

Abandoned to weep
I collapsed in a heap,
Dutifully sleep-
ing all day
Abandoned to die
I did nothing but cry
In my one-ply
Negligee…

Yes, I think I might drink a few
And maybe the baby will too.

This seems to be part two of “The Night You Can’t Remember” from 69 Love Songs. The tale of a woman, left pregnant and alone by her lover. I’ve never heard of thin negligee being referred to as “one-ply” but I do like that. It’s a very visual adjective. This is probably my favourite song on the album. I can listen to it over and over again. Sonically, it reminds me of “In An Operetta” from i, but I feel it’s lyrically superior. Maybe it’s the harpsichord.

Song: Better Things
Sung by: Stephin
Favourite lyric: “The wolfboy is adorable.”

On winter nights the mermaid sings,
“I was made for better things
Better things, dearie,
Better things”

In early spring the ghost princess
Goes haunting in her pretty dress
Pretty dress, your majesty,
Pretty dress

And I have heard
The singing of real birds
Not those absurd
Birds that simply everybody’s heard
Real birds

In summer when the moon is full
The wolfboy is adorable
Adorable, you’re
Adorable

I have observed
The winging of real birds
Not those reserved
Birds that simply everyone’s observed
Real birds

This is really pretty, and heavy on autoharp. Not his greatest lyrical achievement, but an enjoyable song.

Song: Painted Flower
Sung by: Shirley
Favourite lyric: “A frozen bloom left alone in some forgotten room.”

I’m just a painted flower on silk brocade
Left in the sun I will slowly fade
Fade to nothing like I’d never been made
Like I’d never been made

I’m just a painted flower, a frozen bloom
Left alone in some forgotten room
A fly in amber, I pose in my tomb
I pose in my tomb

I’m only drops of paint in a silver frame
Without an aim and without a name
Gathering dust, every day just the same
Every day just the same.

I like this song, quite a bit. A rather bleak and depressing image. This could be lifted from one of the musicals Merritt has written the music for.

Song: The Dada Polka
Sung by: Stephin
Favourite lyric: “Gyrate like a gyroscope, collide like a kaleidoscope.”

People of Earth, when you dance
Dance the Dada Polka
Life is only a dream
When in the mood for romance
Dance the Dada Polka
Be as cute as you seem

Gyrate like a gyroscope,
Collide like a kaleidoscope
Freeze!
Do something-anything-
Do something, please

People of Earth, don’t just stand
There, the Dada Polka
Is as fun as it sounds
Move hips and hands when the band
Plays the Dada Polka
You may lose a few pounds

Gyrate like a gyroscope,
Collide like a kaleidoscope
Change!
Do something-anything-
Do something strange

People of Mars, you too must
Do the Dada Polka
It’s the meaning of life
Fill any partner with lust?
Do the Dada Polka
Soon there’ll be a new wife

Gyrate like a gyroscope,
Collide like a kaleidoscope, do
Do something-anything-
Do something blue
Do something-anything-
Do something a little out of
character, it won’t kill you
Do something-anything-
Do something true.

How can you not love this addictively fun song? It’s got a flavour of ’50s rock and roll, while still having Merritt’s signature sound.

Song: From A Sinking Boat
Sung by: Stephin
Favourite lyric: the entire song.

In the middle of the night, 
With a sickening sound 
This little boat 
Ran aground 
The mast is twisted, the hull is breached 
One high tide and it’ll be beached 

If I could walk, I’d walk away 
But I haven’t slept since yesterday 
The ink is sinking, the page is blurred 
And I can’t read a single word 
But know that I love you, 
Know that I wrote 
My last words to you 
From a sinking boat.

Not the most exciting song, you might even call it boring. Musically, it’s on one short loop, but lyrically, Merritt tells a story in a few short lines.

  1. Played by Daniel Handler… aka LEMONY SNICKET! OMG! []
  2. Psst, Stephin, Santa Claus is fictional; he’s not going to come. []

2 Thoughts on “Realism – In Depth

  1. mym on May 6, 2010 at 5:04 am said:

    I profoundly disagree with you about “From A Sinking Boat” which is classic, small scale intense Merritt.

    Anyway…”I can’t see Merritt fading out mid-verse without a specific reason, but I don’t know what it is. Do you?”

    Yes, the one thing the protagonist absolutely cannot say, even as a trial statement, even lower in the scale of probability than murder, is “I love you”.

  2. Ahh, I like your answer of my question, thank you mym.

    I’m glad you like From A Sinking Ship. I approve disagreement with art, however, you can’t deny that it’s not the most sonically interesting song, it’s very repetitive, but the lyrics are interesting. It’s definitely grown on me since it was released, but still not anything I’m wild about. Give it a few years and I’ll probably love it.

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