Friday, August 19, 2011

CD Odyssey Disc 312: Metric

My last review was the Wild Strawberries, a nineties indie pop band from Canada that never hit it big. Fast forward ten years, and you get this next band - a Canadian pop band that did hit it big.

I would have preferred it had been reversed, but fame is fickle, my friends.

Disc 312 is...Live It Out

Artist: Metric

Year of Release: 2005

What’s Up With The Cover?: It looks like lead singer Emily Haines is drowning in some kind of oil monster that escaped from a piece of Patrick Nagel's eighties wall art.

How I Came To Know It: As I mentioned when I reviewed "Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?" way back at Disc 95, I saw a video for the song "Portrait Of A Girl" and bought the album. As it happens, that album was "Live It Out", making this record my introduction to the band.

How It Stacks Up: We have three Metric albums. Of the three, I'd put "Live It Out" in the middle of the pack, or 2nd.

Rating: 3 stars.

I already detailed the basics on Metric when I reviewed their previous album, but to recap, they are an indie pop band from Canada that features the waifish voice (and good looks) of Emily Haines.

Much like their previous album, "Live It Out" is an uneven mess of music - some bordering on excellent, and others being simply annoying. It is demonstrably better than their previous release, but still can't quite arrive in spite of itself.

On the plus side, there are strong songs like "Portrait Of A Girl", "Empty" and "Too Little Too Late" all of which show Metric's ability to write a strong pop melody that sounds fresh and unlike so much of the junk that populates the radio. The opening guitar riff in "Too Little, Too Late" is particularly fresh; a cross between Johnny Cash's loose almost out of tune playing and the clean, rythymic plucking sound of someone like R.E.M.'s Peter Buck.

The song I bought the record for, "Portrait Of A Girl" is also strong, and shows off Haines' thin, girlish voice at its best. I could live without the eighties backbeat in this song, and the added production of spoken word whisperings that come in just below volume, but I can forgive both for giving the song a unique feel.

I can't forgive songs like "Hand$hake$", a song with a title spelled in a way that would make Ke$sha proud. Obviously anything that makes Ke$ha proud is not a good thing, but it goes beyond that. "Handshakes" (I can't spell it wrong more than once without my hands rotting off) is precisely what annoys me about Metric. It is a song with a promising lick, and a theme that may be overdone (rampant consumerism), but is still topical, particularly given the rising levels of personal debt in today's society.

But somewhere between the opening lick, and the end of the song, Metric finds the need to populate the song with a hundred different little sounds, and eventually a desperate sounding Emily sing-shouting the line: "Buy this car to drive to work/Drive to work to pay for this car," over and over again. Yes, we get your point, Metric, but after about the 4th repetition I ceased wanting to. Strangely, this same technique works much better on a later track "Monster Hospital," but I think it is just that "Monster Hospital" is a superior song, and able to withstand the incessant futzing about with the arrangement.

Overall, there are a lot of good- but not great songs like this on "Live It Out". This album frustrated me because it has the potential to be excellent, but the excessively cute production and the over-reaching effort to be politically and socially topical detracts from the effort.

The real irony is I went to see Metric in concert when they were last in town, and from what I saw their fans could care less if they were topical. During their hits I saw a lot of vigorous, off-beat dancing (by which I mean the dancers were off the beat, not groovy). During their other songs, I saw a lot of absent-minded swaying from people who acted like they didn't know what they were hearing. Maybe if these deeper cuts were more listenable, Metric could get their message to a larger audience - starting with their own fans.

Of course, they would fix these problems on their next record - but that is the subject of a future review...

Best tracks: Empty, Glass Ceiling, Too Little Too Late, Monster Hospital, Live It Out

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