For any music interested youngster having fantasies of a band that equally embraces contemporary indie’s main three popular directions: pop, rock and electro, Metric has been a dream too good to be true. It’s undeniably one of the many traits that have sent the Canadian band into the skies as one of the most loved music exports of “Little USA”. Four years after their hit album Live It Out, the long-awaited fourth album Fantasies ought to bust a few fans’ minds open and remind them just why Metric ever was a band worth following.
Automatically appointed front figure and lead singer Emily Haines & Co. have ventured to make up for four years of silence with an album so consistently well-produced, flawlessly written and ambitious that there’s not much left to do than to be impressed. The paradox here is that Metric’s own secret but straightforward formula of 80s-hinting new wave pop (version 2.0) remains intact and not much different from their back catalogue. The ingredients are the same, but the methods of reaching the same delicious cake are new.
It’s notable that Haines and James Shaw of Metric, who once shared room with to-be members of Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, TV On The Radio and Liars, have continuously worked inwards as a band and refined their own sound while all of the named peers as a contrast have worked outwards, expanding their sounds and branching out to new influences.
Some say that the apple never falls far from the tree. But even though songs like “Sick Muse” and “Satellite Mind” fall dangerously close into the Adult Contemporary pit, whose audience already has got its fair taste of Metric, they are at the same time excellent examples of how powerpop actually can live up to its striking name. With that in mind, it’s easier to picture Metric as the apple furthest away from the mother tree.
The light bulb depicted on the cover of Fantasies might just be a good metaphor for the band’s progression. It’s like Metric switched the lights off in the room they were positioned in and then lit a single light bulb. It’s still the very same room indeed, but cast in another light it allows the band to see from another perspective where they really have stood all these years. From there, Metric has basically used the same potential-filled components, appearing to be bigger and more magically luminous than they might be in daylight, and created an album that efficiently draws the listener into it, using subtle hooks and uplifting melodic structures.
I’m not as easily enchanted as to not recognize and yet again confirm that Haines and her band is chewing the same alternative rock gum thousands of bands before them have chewed, and that the gum is starting to lose its taste. Fantasies can be mind-blowing in its own little universe but in wider perspectives it’s more of a shiny gem among many, that does not conceal a lot of originality and purity on the inside.
This may have to do with Haines’ ever so cool but drawling voice (I still think Nina Persson of The Cardigans and Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs have morphed together into Emily Haines). It may also be caused by her freely contemplative and always elegant lyrical formalities. At times she brings to mind a slightly more generic equivalent to Jocke Berg of Sweden’s biggest rock band Kent. There are acid one-liners dropping here and there, a few greyed, dismayed and strikingly concrete metaphors on this and that in everyday life and just general fishing for pity or emotions among the listeners. However, both bands often succeed in catching an emotional depth in most of their songs. Fantasies is a hit-or-miss album in this aspect, and it’s mostly because of James Shaw’s daring and ótherwise spotless production values that interferes with the overall harmony between music and lyrics. “I heard you fuck through the wall” from “Satellite Mind” is a somewhat embarrasing miss, despite being repeated several times in the midst of cool guitars as if the band wants to say “Oh yeah, we went there!”. The presumed future single “Sick Muse”, in which Haines is bitterly shoving digs at Cupid and everything he stands for which climaxes in the choruses’ releasing line ”Everybody everybody just wanna fall in love”, is a highlighting hit.
So if you’re to listen to one Metric song off of Fantasies this year, make it the lead single released last year, “Help, I’m Alive”. The verse is just one big tense distorted drums-lead build-up passing through the accelerating bridge (“My heart keeps beating like a hammer” proclaims Haines) that suddenly drops down into a sweet, guitar-lead college rock chorus that smalltown bands across the American continent wish they had written in the 90s. The opening “Help, I’m Alive” shows just how far Metric have come in terms of songwriting, production skills and tightness as a band. Fantasies displays ten songs that I think true fans of the band only have dared to fantasize about before. The rest of us grin and applause in the background darkness as one of the strongest comeback albums this year not only reunites a band and their trusted followers, but also solidifies the band’s position in order to rigthfully scoop up new ones along the way.