Stephin Merritt is a flat out legend at this point. Though his last two full length studio releases as The Magnetic Fields, 2010’s Realism and 2008’s Distortion, aren’t widely regarded as amongst his best releases, they still put to shame the legion of would be acoustic guitar toting youngsters who seek to call themselves songwriters. No, Merritt is the embodiment of the term ‘songwriter’ almost to the extent that it feels inappropriate to apply the term to lesser figures. Though there’s not much of a case to be made for the supremacy this new effort, Love At The Bottom Of The Sea, over such classics as The Wayward Bus or the hallowed 69 Love Songs, it represents a catchy return to form for one of the more prolific songwriters of our time.

Early press releases described Love At The Bottom... as a return to the synth-pop strains of the early nineties work of The Magnetic Fields, and early single, the outstanding 'Andrew In Drag' seemed to confirm this assessment. However, the more time that’s spent with the album, the more it becomes clear that these tracks have more in common with recent efforts than these releases would let on. More than a return to Holiday, this album retains a similar structure to Merritt’s last few releases. Much like Distortion and Realism funneled Merritt’s distinct lyrical style through cheap shoegaze tones and full folkiness, respectively, Love At The Bottom Of The Sea filters his same signature wit through the cheesiest synth sounds this side of the Human League. ‘Infatuation With Your Gyration’ is perhaps the most prominent example of this. Where Merritt might have coated the song in prickly fuzz on Distortion he here puts for some sickeningly sweet synth tones and a chanty chorus, while still not compromising the pathos of his lyrics.

I mean, Merritt has always tread a line lyrically between the overtly cynical, (“I could wear all black and read Camus/Like I was 17/It would be a dream”), and the sappy (“The Book of Love has music in it/in fact that’s where music comes from”), but here the cynical and humorous is indulged to an even greater extent. Perhaps it’s to emphasize the near silliness of the synth sounds, but on opener ‘Your Girlfriend’s Face’, the narrator mentions buying crystal meth and blowing off the face of the “Girlfriend” in question. It’s darker humor, sure, but it's certainly a bit further down the path of of humor than Merritt has ever trudged.

Honestly, at this point a Magnetic Fields album is a Magnetic Fields album, and this one despite its reliance on new (old?) sonic tricks is still nothing more. Though that could certainly sound like a slight, it’s not meant that way. It’s just that eleven albums in we expect a coherent set of well written pop songs, and that’s exactly what we’re given here - no exceeded or unmet expectations. Merritt’s not on autopilot, but this album- despite the weirdness of ‘God Wants Us To Wait’ or the immediacy of ‘Quick!’ - likely won’t be enough to convert send the masses flocking to Merritt like he deserves from his highest tier of releases.