Monday, August 1, 2005

Records In Review: Metric--Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?

The first proper album by local non-yokels Metric grew quite a bit on me over time...and I got my copy of it for free, too!

Not that I'd want to generalize or anything, but Metric are fairly overt practitioners of the recent '80s revivalist sound. If you're looking for boogie-beats, sir, then may I humbly suggest that you shop elsewhere? The lines are straight, and the sounds very nicely layered--a very nicely-produced disc, in fact. There are strong echoes of early-Midge Ure-era Ultravox here--impressive drummer Joules Scott-Key sounds like an only slightly less austere Warren Cann--albeit with more attitude. The 'tude, unfortunately, accounts for some of the record's weaknesses. Which brings us to singer/keyboardist Emily Haines. Not everyone is going to warm to the fin-de-siecle ennui and snarkiness that her singing brings to the music, and it certainly took a few listens to get past my predisposition against it and to learn to appreciate how it meshes with the overall sound.

The music works best, I think, when it most successfully balances the austerity and the snottiness, which it does...for the most part. The first half of the disc is extremely good. "Hustle Rose" is my favourite; it's probably the most structurally complex (relatively speaking) tune on the record, and it moves from section to section very nicely, developing and alternating between a langorous piano-bar motif with (increasingly) rockier parts to great effect. In this way, it's quite similar to the opening track, "IOU." There's also some lovely keyboard layerings at the conclusion. The single "Combat Baby" builds up the instrumentation very nicely toward the very catchy chorus, which for some reason, always makes me think of Goths doing The Twist. "Calculation Theme," a keyboard and vocals tune, is a nice mid-album change-of-pace that contains the unforgettable line: "I wish we were farmers/I wish we knew how/to grow sweet potatoes and milk cows." Ah, love songs!

It's at this point that the album founders a bit. The opening moments of "Wet Blanket" show the band trying too hard, and it comes across as warmed-over post-punk snarliness. The lyrics don't help either: "Underneath the shaker knit he's a brick wall she keeps/ falling for the trick vegetarian sing-along/give a little kick with your fine thigh high." "On A Slow Night" is pretty hard slogging, being both melodically rigid and rhythmically static. "The List" picks things back up a bit, with electronic beepings paving the way for a hell-for-leather non-chorus that falls somewhere between The Cars and Bill Nelson's Red Noise (perhaps je stretch comparisons a bit to far..?). The penultimate track, "Dead Disco," is--how shall I put it--not good. Not good at all. "All we get is/dead disco, dead funk, dead rock 'n' roll, remodel/everything has been done, la la la la la, etc." Indeed. It's got a cool opening drum pattern. There: I said something nice about it. "Love Is A Place" is a harmless anticlimax--if you can call its predecessor a climax--that sounds like slackers playing new wave.

There's a lot to like here, but I'm hoping that on future releases the band's considerable sonic and instrumental achievement will find itself facing stiffer competition from song structure and motif selection.

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