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The Pick: The playful pop subversions of Stephin Merritt’s Magnetic Fields


Stephin Merritt’s band, The Magnetic Fields, is technically a five-piece outfit, but for all intents and purposes, Merritt runs a one-man show: he’s been the primary writer, singer and producer on all of the group’s 10 albums. In certain indie circles, Merritt—who plays the Sound Academy this week—holds godlike sway, revered for his erudite sensibility and reverberating, layered synth-pop orchestrations. With his trademark self-consciously witty lyrics, Merritt has crafted some of the finest pop hooks of the past two decades.

Unlike their last release, 2010’s Realism, which brought an acoustic sound to Merritt’s songs, the band’s new album, Love at the Bottom of the Sea, is heavy on the synthesizer and light on the sentiment. It’s a reliably clever, catchy collection of tunes like “Andrew in Drag” (above)—a wry, infectious ditty in the tradition of the Kinks’ “Lola” or Pet Shop Boys’ “The Night I Fell in Love”—and “God Wants Us to Wait,” a gently mocking ode to abstinence.

Love at the Bottom of the Sea is a fun album, but for many fans the real reason to see the Magnetic Fields this week is the opportunity to hear Merritt perform songs from the band’s magnum opus, 1999’s 69 Love Songs. On that album, Merritt offset his self-aggrandizing wit with tenderness and sincerity. The lyrics in songs like “All My Little Words,” “Busby Berkeley Dreams” and “The Book of Love” delight in their language and cleverness, but combine the wordplay with melodies that will make your heart ache. Merritt suffers from a condition called hyperacusis, or oversensitivity to loud noise, so his live shows, unlike the albums, are bare-bones and acoustic. We love the Fields’ synth-pop, but a simple, fuss-free show focusing solely on Merritt’s sonorous baritone and plaintive melodies sounds pretty much perfect.

The details: March 30. 8 p.m. $31.50. Sound Academy, 11 Polson St., sound-academy.com.