Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fantasies - Metric


Last Gang Records.

SCQ Rating: 73%

“This next song is about dreams,” began Emily Haines midway through Metric’s set at Call the Office, March 2004, before asking the crowd if any of us had had a good dream lately. Without hesitation, a faceless retort came booming from the crowd. “I was impregnating you!”, shouted one of a hundred young men drooling in the front row, leading to universal approval and a slightly embarrassed Haines. It was well-timed, easing the potential awkwardness of such lame stage-banter and pointing out the elephant in the room; that Emily Haines is attractive beyond the usual ‘bookish hot’ that classifies most indie-rock females. Yet what was most memorable about that gig was how comfortable Haines was as a showman, flinging her long arms in the air and contorting her face during ‘Dead Disco’’s low-end la-la-la’s. Despite being friendly and diving head-first into the material, her behaviour and actions were decidedly not hot. She was making a point of it.

The next twelve months would find Metric’s Old World Underground, Where Are You a much-delayed college hit, and the Toronto-based quartet were ready to release follow-up Live It Out. That year-in-passing also uttered stories of frontwoman tantrums, like when Haines spit on various crowd members during a stop in Ottawa or when I witnessed her giving attitude to both crowd-members and venue-bouncers at a London show. It was at that September 2005 show, my second, that I suspected her spark had gone; success had turned another wide-eyed dreamer into a casualty of self-importance, another performer into a poseur. While no video or interview I’ve incidentally caught since has changed that judgement call, SCQ Ratings are awarded to an artist’s work, not their attitude, and besides, there are three other artists (guitarist James Shaw, bassist Josh Winstead and Joules Scott-Key on the kit) in Metric who seem to appreciate their good fortunes. Still, might my partiality against Haines provide a curious lens through which I review this new release? (Now there's a fantasy...)

A single spin of Fantasies settles a few standard questions that arise when once-chic indie-popsters resurface after almost half a decade: (1) are Metric churning out the same sassy pop notions? (2) Are they relevant? First off, Metric haven’t changed much since their virtual inception yet, as these ten tracks make clear, the quartet continues to sidestep cloning its back catalog. A track like ‘Help I’m Alive’, seemingly stitched together from at least two different songs, is instant Metric; the swift pull of rhythmic guitar and uncomplicated percussion meeting Haines frail phrasing may as well be a DNA positive test of their brand. And yet their keen ear for melody and tempo also seems quite sharp at adapting; Fantasies sounds uber-contemporary, unwilling to loosen its grips on the college crowd that hoisted them to greatness six years ago. As a fringe-member of that crowd, I can confirm that their updated arsenal sounds vital and professional; ‘Gold Guns Girls’ trades thin rhythm guitar for revving electric prominence while employing a heavy mix of vocals - Haines singing, cooing and chanting all at once. The synth-factor spikes on New Order rocker ‘Gimme Sympathy’ - an incredibly catchy, if irreverent single - while ‘Satellite Mind’ lets some grit tangle their once-sterile six-strings. Wisely sacrificing their old dynamics for bolder production, even weak links like ‘Stadium Love’ and ‘Front Row’ get by on meatier guitars and overblown keys.

The mere fact that, grudge considered, Fantasies is even being reviewed on SCQ suggests its promise outright, a potential that any fan of Haines’ solo work or old Metric would be foolish to pass up on. Hell, even my girlfriend, who recently described re-hearing old-favourite Live It Out as “awful” is smitten with this new collection. Need another testimonial for artistic relevance? Fantasies’ best material, be it the smothered drum-machine of ‘Twilight Galaxy’ or the electric-piano pulse of ‘Collect Call’, arrives as their softest, proving the band capable of yet another small step from both the beaten path and past achievements. As the last person in the world who’d wish to impregnate Emily Haines, that’s the best testimonial I can offer.

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