It’s a shock to realise that Metric have been putting out records since 2001, even more so when you consider that Synthetica will only be their 5th album proper, not counting all those remixes, collaborations, contributions to Twilight sound-tracks and Emily Haines solo output. Whilst they are kind of a big deal in the UK, back home in Canada they are massive local heroes, having grown out of the supergroup / family of Broken Social Scene. Being outside of the usual US–UK axis also maybe tends them to a less blinkered worldview. For instance, it would be entirely fair to describe them as a huge deal in South America, and Emily and the band have lavished commensurate attention on such territories, even half living in Brazil at one point.
Looking back over Metric’s history, they have always been at a jagged intersection of post-pop and punk, the latter element more prevalent pre-2007, in albums such as Live It Out and tracks like the acerbic ‘Monster Hospital’. In 2008 they released their biggest commercial success to date in Fantasies. This was a big step in the direction of pop polish. It certainly wasn’t selling out, the punk spirit remained, something Emily and I agreed on when I interviewed her while they were touring the album. There were however those fans that hankered back to earlier and less compromising days.
So after the history lesson, what of Synthetica, all sparkly and new? On a trite level, the clue is in the title – keyboards dominate, and manage to be engaging and at the same time brittle, as though the welcome sign were made of sun-damaged fairground plastic. They’ve kept the sheen of Fantasies, every single inch of it, but at the same time made it more personal, pulling through much of the ethos of those earlier days, melding the sharp disaffection of those earlier records with the soaring striding anthems of latter years. In a word, they’ve succeeded in satisfying both camps here, and the result is impressive.
In a strong album, there are standout tracks – first single ‘Youth Without Youth’ is an exciting power ride, uplifting even as they sing of razor blades and hand grenades.
Worthy of note is ‘The Wanderlust’ which features guest vocals by none other than Lou Reed. The obvious question has to be has Lou redeemed himself after his execrable recent venture with Metallica? And the answer is a fairly unremarkable, yes, it’s fine, and Lou’s rounded enunciation works well in this context to counterpoint Emily’s breathiness.
The absolute killer track here though, and the one reaching the furthest back in spirit, is ‘Dreams So Real’. It’s a drone of krunk keyboards, fit to make the speaker cabs shake to the point of melt down, while Emily intones, chants, a stream of consciousness about belief in the power of songs and in the power of girls, until she admits the final irony and boredom is that “the point we’re making is gone…to play stripped down to my thong” at which point you know that she’s given up fighting, and she’ll “shut up and carry on…The scream becomes a yawn….”
This is a massively impressive record, powerful, engaging and easily the strongest work of their career. Don’t believe me? Watch the video, then keep going down to stream the whole album