Metric’s Synthetica– Album Review
It’s not fair to be disappointed in a band because their new record doesn’t replicate their back catalogue.
That’s the exciting thing about Canadian new-wave rock outfit Metric – they don’t do-over. 14 years into their career, they’ve released their fifth studio album, Synthetica, a record that sounds at once fresh and familiar.
”Synthetica is something else entirely. Suck it and see.”
Prior to the album’s release, frontwoman Emily Haines said Synthetica was “the culmination of everything we have done”. It’s an interesting way of looking at it. Certainly, Metric has reined things in since the scraping guitars and overt polemic of 2005’s Live It Out, but they’ve also progressed from the stadium-rock safety of their previous record, Fantasies (2009).
Haines’ lyrics – though cryptic as ever – seem to have found middle ground between the personal and the political. As its title suggests, Synthetica is preoccupied with the question of reality versus artifice, but there are also recurring themes of nostalgia, time and uncertainty.
The sweeping, otherworldly “Artificial Nocturne” is a fitting opener to Synthetica. Until we hit the two-minute mark, Haines’ velvety voice coasts over synthesisers like some weird pagan hymn. Then the drums kick in, and suddenly it feels okay to be “fucked-up” in the way Metric claims to be.
Lead single “Youth Without Youth” grows on you. At first listen it seems repetitive, bloodless and auto-tuned, but its simplicity packs a punch. Jimmy Shaw’s scruffy grunge guitar, the trip and fall of Joshua Winstead’s bass and Haines’ urgent purr will ultimately have you stickin’ it to the man, like it or not.
“Breathing Underwater” is unexpectedly jubilant pop – even Haines sounds surprised. “Lost Kitten” is clever in its irony, with a sinister edge underpinning the cutesy melody. (It’s also most redolent of Metric circa Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?)
Arguably Synthetica’s finest moment, “Dreams So Real”, arrives in the middle of the album. There’s a weird sense of stoicism – or is it fatalism? – as Haines pledges to “shut up and carry on / the scream becomes a yawn”.
Leaden synths and smothery drums give the track an anthemic, arse-kicking feel, and yet lyrically, it’s full of self-doubt and questions.
And yeah, there’s that cameo from Lou Reed. Much has been made of penultimate track “Wanderlust”, and the purportedly unlikely collaboration between the Haines and Reed. (In fact, they met backstage at a Neil Young tribute concert.) The end result isn’t as remarkable as you might expect, though their voices are unexpectedly complementary. Emily wonders “Will there ever be a place for you and me?”: Lou’s distinctive drawl provides the reassuring answer.
Don’t come looking for another Live It Out. It’s not exactly Fantasies Part II. It’s nothing like an Emily Haines solo album, or anything resembling her work with Broken Social Scene. Synthetica is something else entirely. Suck it and see.