Metric - Fantasies
Record Label: Self-released
Release Date: April 14, 2009
Fantasies is the long awaited fourth album from Metric and the Canadian-American synth-rockers' first release of new material in nearly four years.
How Is It?
This is the album we knew Metric had in them, but hadn't quite produced thus far. Rather than a stylistic progression, it seems to represent the creative nexus between the band's debut, Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?, and its successor, Live It Out. After having given up the straight-up New Wave revivalist pastiche of their first album in favor of a grittier, more abrasive alt-rock sound for their second, often allowing vocalist/keyboardist Emily Haines' synths to take a back seat to scratchy guitars, Metric have made a move back toward the middle, and in the process, they've created their strongest and most consistently rewarding album.
With Fantasies, it seems that Metric have come to the realization that their strengths are best expressed in the arena of pure pop. On this album, the band shows no pretense of being an indie act and avoids altogether the non sequitur experimentalism that has bogged down the occasional song on their previous records. The focus here is on the driving rhythms, led by a balanced guitar-and-synth approach, neither becoming the dominant force behind the band's sound, and the consistently catchy melodies provided by Haines.
Like Old World Underground and Live It Out, Fantasies is a compact affair, likewise containing ten tracks and clocking in at around forty minutes. This time out, though, Metric have cut out any disposable material, resulting in what is easily the most focused and pointed album of their career, while simultaneously being the most easily digestible. Longtime fans might initially decry the more conventional approach, but eliminate any preconceptions, and the truth that this album is the band's strongest set of songs to date will reveal itself. As such, Fantasies would also make a great starting point for newcomers looking to get into this band.
"Help I'm Alive" opens the album on a high note with a display of the sonic duality that's present throughout the album, with the verses having a dark, ominous feel and Haines in Debbie Harry mode, before bursting into a peppy jam of a chorus. The darkpop gem "Sick Muse" finds Haines earnestly imploring Cupid to "pull your little arrows out and let me live my life," over an insistent rhythm. Carrying a similar sound is "Satellite Mind," which also features Haines sounding less than fulfilled, delivering the lines, "I'm not suicidal, I just can't get out of bed... I feel your ghost when I'm alone." The strong vocal performances, solid musicianship and razor-sharp focus on snappy melodies propel these songs and save them from being overburdened by Haines' disconsolate ruminations.
If the record has a weak point, it's undoubtedly "Twilight Galaxy," an understated and directionless piece made worse by the fact that it ambles on for nearly five minutes. If there's a skippable track on Fantasies, "Twilight Galaxy" is the one. Luckily, it's followed up by one of the album's most exciting moments, "Gold, Guns and Girls," and Haines' admonition, "I don't want to bend like the bad girls bend. I just want to be your friend. Is it ever gonna be enough?," over a persistent beat and ever present synth buzz.
While the first half of the album is loaded with moderately uptempo rockers, the second half starts out with "Gimme Sympathy" and "Collect Call," both beautiful Stars-esque compositions, the latter featuring a fragile vocal performance from Haines that sounds very much like Jenny Lewis. The mood doesn't last, as "Front Row," breaks the chain with its heavy industrial meets post-grunge feel. Similar in sound to some of the more rock-oriented material on Live It Out, "Front Row" nonetheless sounds more tasteful and fits in well on the album despite its slightly different sound.
The duo of "Blindness" and "Stadium" that close out the disc continue in its exhibition of the dichotomy that is Metric's sound, the former a subtle ballad, the latter a brash rocker, both adhering to the band's newfound acute pop-sensibility. With the exception of "Twilight Galaxy," every song is a potential single, and it's almost impossible to pick a favorite. Without a doubt, this is an unabashedly pop album, with Haines sounding pitch-perfect and the music buffed to a lustrous sheen, but this production approach has proven felicitous, as Metric have never sounded better. There are likely going to be haters who will miss the indie darlings they were on Old World Underground, but I'll gladly let them stick their noses in the air while I rock this wonderful album. With Fantasies, Metric have stepped up to the plate, risen to the occasion, come into their own, discovered their sound, and delivered their best record yet.