London Shepherd's Bush Empire

For an evening's entertainment, it's a truly remarkable thing...

When you buy into The Magnetic Fields, you get much more than just a batch of songs. It's a case of stepping into songwriter/bandleader Stephin Merritt's dreamy worldview, a make-believe wish-fulfilment filled with glamorous locales and heart-swelling high drama - elegantly undercut with

a healthy mixture of hubris and dry wit. Like the Hollywood golden age, when the lens was smeared with Vaseline but the script was razor-sharp.

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Tonight, then, is another number in the travelling tragi-comic musical that The Magnetic Fields have taken on the road since the marvellous conceit of their '69 Love Songs' brought Merritt's genius quill to widespread attention. The production values might be meagre, but they're carefully deployed; the music stands, the ridiculously long scarves worn by the band and their guests, are all clues suggesting the Fields view sweaty urchin rock'n'roll with cultured distaste.

But, unlike fellow-travellers in the cause for mannered pop, Belle & Sebastian, Merritt has a taste for showbiz. That'd explain guest appearances from a deliciously spangled Marc Almond, who brings a lush torch-song glow to 'Volcana!', along with Sarah Cracknell, Sally Timms (The Mekons) and Amelia Fletcher (Marine Research) who sing Merritt's other project, the 6ths' new album, 'Hyacinths And Thistles'.

Even such distractions can't

tear the spotlight from Merritt.

As a keening 'Busby Berkeley Dreams' gazes longingly somewhere over the rainbow, Merritt reveals himself the master cynic, yet simultaneously (though not, miraculously, contradictorily)

a deft sentimentalist. Navigating the heart without betraying the intellect, charting wryly the conflicts between the two. For an evening's entertainment, it's a truly remarkable thing.

Stevie Chick

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