Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Metric - Synthetica

Described by vocalist Emily Haines in a letter to fans as being ‘about what is real versus what is artificial’ and by guitarist Jimmy Shaw as ‘the culmination of everything we’ve been working towards’ I started listening to this album expecting something apocalyptic, a Blade Runner-like indictment of technology run rampant, of human beings constantly simulated by information but unable to form a meaningful attachment to any of it. Instead however, ‘Synthetica’ could be Metric’s most accessible record to date, another move away from their punk roots towards the sexy, precisely-tooled new-wave of 2009’s ‘Fantasies.

Opener Artificial Nocturne rears like a snow covered glacier, slow-moving yet deceptively deadly. Channelling a dark groove reminiscent of Stereolab or even Nine Inch Nails, it builds in throbbing waves finally cresting out on a wash of synthesizers. With its exploitation themed video and cheeky nod to the Beatles, lead single Youth Without Youth serves as a sequel to Gimme Sympathy from ‘Fantasies’. Sound-wise it’s an icier take on the glossy stomp of Goldfrapp or Blondie. Meanwhile Speed the Collapse goes for a full on apocalypse with Haines cooing ‘seas will boil…we auctioned off our memories’ as humanity collapses around her.

As usual with Metric records Haines voice remains front and centre. Ever since her first appearances with Broken Social Scene the Canadian has always been a bold and self-possessed frontwoman in the mould of Shirley Manson and it’s when she’s at her most declarative that you sense Metric have something concrete to offer the listener. Unfortunately too much of ‘Synthetica’ is nebulous and indistinct. The faux-girlish delivery on Lost Kitten may be intended as a comment on the superficiality of modern society but it feels slight and ill-defined. The Void offers a portentous title and a glitch ridden opening Sleigh Bells would be proud of but it quickly becomes an anthem to staying up at night singing to records.

As a concept album ‘Synthetica’ lacks punch and clarity. Themes of cultural and societal alienation brought about by technology were covered on Radiohead’s ‘OK Computer’ almost 15 years ago but whilst sometimes it seems as though Metric have tried to update them for the super-saturated Twitter era there’s a sense that the band aren’t asking the important questions. Ultimately even the appearance of gnarled rock-Grinch Lou Reed on the penultimate track The Wanderlust cannot quite redeem ‘Synthetica’. In the battle between man and machine this is more a glancing blow than a killer assault.


Max Sefton

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