Toronto
3 min

Sad concepts

Strong writing

EMOTIONAL COMPASS. The Magnetic Field's I. Credit: Xtra files

The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt sits in gay bars and writes sardonic, brooding and tender love songs. He’s slightly twisted and always self-deprecating. On his new album, I, every song begins with the word “I” or a word that starts with the letter “I.” A silly concept, really. But the man writes great songs so we’ll let it ride. His sleepy sad baritone sings to us of desire, betrayal and an evil twin. He’s Eeyore channeling Sally Bowles.



On “I Don’t Believe You,” a doubtful Merritt questions his lover’s devotion. “You tell me I’m not not cute/ Its truth or falsity is moot/ ‘Cause honesty’s not your strong suit.” Most of the songs have an airy quality. Pretty piano, banjos, guitars, cellos and violins appear with a nonchalant peppiness that’s never jarring.



“I Thought You Were My Boyfriend” is a little different. It has an 1980s flair with its fanciful piano tinkling and synth beats. “Love or not/ I’ve always got/ Ten guys on whom I can depend/ And if you’re not mine/ One less is nine/ Get wise,” Merritt boasts.



The album is not as satisfying as the 1999 three-CD classic 69 Love Songs, but it has a dark yet comforting aura about it. The emotions ring true. The lyrical content always tickles. “If There’s Such A Thing As Love” has the best lines. “When I was two-and-a-half/ My mama said to me/ ‘Love is funny; you will laugh/ Till the day you turn three.'”



Brit Mike Skinner (aka The Streets) has a real knack for writing in that rich working-class dialect. But it’s more Irvine Welshmodern. His new album, A Grand Don’t Come For Free, is his new concept album. It’s a simple story about Mike who has lost a grand. In frustration he combs the city with his best mate Scott (did he take the money?). We follow him (and hear his paranoia, dreams and observations) as he bets on a football match, goes clubbing, does drugs and fights with his girl, C-Mone. It’s a kitchen-sink drama – visual, intense and rich in plot. Gritty and revealing. And at the end, so incredibly moving. It’s a hip-hopera.



Skinner has a lovely Cockney accent. He’s more actor (an exceptional one) than MC. Every song takes on the atmosphere of the setting. Skinner is not a singer so, when singing is needed, there are guest vocals that gently support the emotional experiences of Mike. On “Get Out Of My House” rapper C-Mone is a wonder as she chastises Mike for his neglectful ways. She leaves him hilariously tongue-tied. “You’re not exactly… fuckin’… y’know… d’you know what I mean?” he fires back.



The last two songs are killer. After all the cockiness, bravado and spliff smoking the story ends in a surprisingly poetic, sombre, yet life-affirming way. “Dry Your Eyes” has an emotional confrontation with heart-wrenching descriptive passages. “In one single moment your life can turn ’round/ I stand there for a minute staring straight into the ground.” The last song, “Empty Cans,” has Mike tell us of his epiphany. “You are the one who’s got your back/ Till the last deed’s done.” I won’t tell you how the story ends but this has got to be the best movie of the year. It’s fucking brilliant.



**

I just can’t get enough: He’s baaack! The Mozzer (Morrissey) has returned after a seven-year hiatus. His new album, You Are The Quarry (Attack Records) is his best since – but not even close to – the splendour of his 1988 solo debut, Viva Hate. He’s still sexually ambiguous and longing in the loins. I love him. But even with his wit intact the music meanders and has no surprise. He needs ex-Smiths mate Johnny Marr’s pulsating musical sparks to ignite some fun to the lyric. It’s as stale as a new Chris Isaak album. Best tracks: “Come Back To Camden,” “First Of The Gang To Die” and “You Know I Couldn’t Last” which features the lines, “The teenagers who love you/ They will wake up/ Yawn and kill you.”



Go see: Seth Cohen’s fave LA band Rooney who come to town to play their sunny pop. Think babyface Oasis. If you don’t know who Seth Cohen is, you’re not allowed to attend. Wed, Jun 9 at 8pm at The Guvernment (132 Queen Quay E).



Dance rockers Franz Ferdinand are the new big thing in the UK. They’re hot, sexy and still alive! The boys put on a great aggressive show. Mon, Jun 14 at 9pm at Kool Haus (132 Queen Quay E).



The greatest Canadian veg-etarian lesbian chanteuse in the world… ever! Kd lang comes to TO in support of her upcoming release, Hymns Of The 49th Parallel. She will surely be making the girls swoon. She’s the new Sinatra. Thu, Jun 17 and 18 at 8pm at Roy Thomson Hall (60 Simcoe St).



Pink alert: Sassy badass Nellie McKay is coming back. She’s a swingin’ 19-year-old who attracts a Will And Grace audience. Wed, Jun 30 at Lee’s Palace (506 Bloor St W).



I.

The Magnetic Fields.

Nonesuch Records. $14.99.



A GRAND DON’T COME FOR FREE.

The Streets.

Locked On. $12.99.