69 Love Songs, the Magnetic Fields' three-disc adventure in pop-music dilettantism, was the point where the antiquated past (jazz, blues, standards, chamber music) crashed into the space-age future (synthpop). Five years after 69, on his band's seventh disc, MF frontman Stephin Merritt has ditched synthesizers completely -- an unfortunate choice, since the organic-sounding i ironically possesses much less emotional oomph than his electronica-steeped outings did.
"Is This What They Used To Call Love" and "It's Only Time" are frosty, piano-driven elegies, with melodrama ("Whenever I get near you, dear/My heart starts to sicken"), but not spine-tingling impact. "Irma" -- a tale of a chocolate-loving girl whose father crashes his van into her bedroom, spilling candy everywhere -- loses its Shel Silverstein-style whimsy amid plodding banjo, while the playful lope of "I'm Tongue-Tied" resembles an injured horse trying to gallop. In fact, i's best songs ape the chipper new-wave atmosphere of previous MF songs -- such as the biting "I Thought You Were My Boyfriend," where Merritt emotes while sinusoidal rhythms and piano twinkles tremble like OMD and Joy Division having a tussle.