Album Review: Metric – ‘Synthetica’

Posted: 25/06/2012 in Uncategorized

Canadian synth-rock maestros Metric return with their fifth studio album Synthetica… Pre-destined to sit in the shadow of 2009’s formidable Fantasies it may be, but if advance promotion tactics are anything to go by it’s a record eager to break free from advance expectations and make a mark all of its own. Metric have stated that the record is the sound of the culmination of everything they have put their name to as a band; a sound they have continually strived for but have only come to realise now. A tall claim, no doubt – but will it please their fans as much as it pleases themselves?

The arrival of Synthetica was heralded with an open letter from fearless leader Emily Haines to fans, posted on the band’s website. The Broken Social Scene alumnus mused over the evolution of Metric in their now ten years together, taking on a music industry which has changed dramatically and remains in a continual state of flux. “Sometimes I romanticise a time when rock and roll didn’t require tweeting… yet I can’t imagine how people used to tour the world without cell phones”, wrote Haines. Whilst Fantasies dealt with pushing herself to explore the unknown, the essence of Synthetica is about exploring what is real and what is artificial in an online-dominated world that moves at a sometimes bewildering pace. Given the nature of that letter, the bitter irony of the manner in which Synthetica leaked online in advance must have been hard to stomach for Haines & Co. An interactive game of hide & seek led fans in an online search to gather unique clues, the prize being access an early stream of Synthetica – and of course the inevitable happened. What was worse is that the leaked stream of the album was deceptively made to seem as if it was from the band’s official Soundcloud profile, leading many music websites to post it.

Lead single ‘Youth Without Youth’ hardly packs the same punch as the all-conquering ‘Help I’m Alive’ from their last outing, but nevertheless commands attention in its own synth-heavy right. Metric’s lurking dark heart beats loudly with ‘Speed the Collapse’, an impeccably produced soaring atmospheric indie-anthem. ‘Breathing Underwater’and title track ‘Synthetica’ will lead the charge in time to come, both likely singles that toe the line of the textbook Metric sound; in contract the album’s more subdued mid-section comprising of ‘Dreams so Real’ and ‘Lost Kitten’ is refreshingly ambitious. The notion of a Lou Reed collaboration was better than the actual reality of it – in fact his backing vocal presence detracts from the otherwise enjoyable slice of sci-fi pop that is ‘The Wanderlust’. Sonically, it’s not all perfect – but the talents of Emily Haines are burning bright throughout. “I’m just as f*cked up as they say”, sings Haines as the opening line of ‘Artificial Nocturne’ to set the bar of lyrical honesty for Synthetica. We’ve always known her to be an incredibly talented songwriter, but this time around she seems to have found inspiration in embracing her cathartic side more than ever. Vocally, she is flawless – living up to the band’s name with pinpoint delivery in a style that can alternate smoothly between elegant and aggressive in a heartbeat.

Naysayers may well dismiss Synthetica as a lacklustre effort on behalf of Metric – and in truth, yes there is nothing dazzlingly daring within. But here we have a band who have worked long and hard to establish a formula that has allowed them to break on through to the mainstream, earning themselves a loyal fanbase along the way and now entering their second decade of creating innovative music… As the old saying goes, if it ain’t broken, then don’t fix it.

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