So you're Stephin Merritt and the world can't provide you with enough opportunities to exercise your acerbic fascination with the arcane. You've critiqued novelty calendars in print, funnelled your energies into über-conceptual theme albums and side projects -- hell, you're even expanding into kids' lit. Where do you turn? Clearly, to contemporary Chinese opera. Showtunes collects tunes from three collaborative ventures between Merritt and director Chen Shi-Zheng: a bloody tale of venegeance, a politically charged romance set in a Ming Dynasty brothel and a Hans Christian Andersen-inspired non-linear piece. The album is absurd, confusing (the random sequencing can be a bitch if you're trying to follow individual plots), hilarious (only Merritt could pen a libretto titled What A Fucking Lovely Day!) and bloody brilliant. Sonically, there's not a huge gap between this and much of the Magnetic Fields' oeuvre; Merritt's always had a penchant for the fey lilt of Gilbert & Sullivan and the caustic bite of Kurt Weill. Regular Magnetic contributors like Claudia Gonson even show up in the chorus. The standout addition here is the use of Asian instruments like erhu, which fills in the plucky bits Merritt typically strums on ukulele in his regular bands. That doesn't stop him from throwing in the uke-crazy singalong Ukulele Me! Weird and wacky.