Metric - Fantasies

Simon Jay Catling 17/04/2009

Rating: 3.5/5

Make no mistake, Emily Haines keeps a clear boundary between her Soft Skeleton work and that of Metric. It may have been almost three years ago, but Knives Don't Have Your Back showed a darker, more insecure side to the blonde bombshell singer that some may have hoped would translate forward into Fantasies. Clearly though such intimacy has been confined to those moments when Haines finds herself alone with her thoughts, for Metric's fourth LP picks up very much where 2005's Live It Out left off. This may be a slightly disappointing discovery, but then you have to remember that the Canadian's familiar pop-punk blueprint comes hand in hand with a pulsating energy and zest that pleasingly makes its presence felt once again during the majority of this album.

Before we go on to assess whether re-inventing the wheel really is enough though it should be pointed out that this is a leaner, trimmer Metric than seen four years previously. The synths that so shaped Live It Out have been nudged gently into the background in favour of a more rugged, straight-edged guitar sound; opening pair Help I'm Alive and sure fire future single Sick Muse provide irrefutable proof of this early on. The former is a constant swathe of building and falling percussion-led noise that'll occasionally push into a chorus that isn't quite as satisfying as the introduction it's been given. Sick Muse however more than kick starts proceedings as James Shaw's deliciously catchy opening guitar hook intertwines wonderfully with Haines' ever glacially delivered vocals, before they both take the plunge into a chorus that rides through on sheer adrenaline over the gambit that “everybody just wants to fall in love/ everybody just wants to play the lead”. It's stirring stuff and a reminder of why Metric made such an impression way back when they came across to the UK to cut through the myriad of post-Libertines pub bands trawling the toilet circuit.

If nothing else quite lives up to Sick Muse then it's not for the want of trying- the back end of the album in particular makes sure that Fantasies romps rather hobbles over the finish line. Front Row opens up sounding trashy and sleazy; Shaw (who it should be noted has improved massively in the four year interim) picks up a handful of Strokes ideas and runs with them to great effect, providing a perfect scuzzy-edged anecdote to Haines' breathy vocals. Album bookend Stadium Love meanwhile sounds anthemic by Metric's tightly woven punk standards; those previously eschewed synths return to supplement a sound that snowballs momentum into a euphorically bubblegum sounding chorus that provides both the necessary melody and wail along 'ooo-oooh's to become a summer festival hit. It's a gloriously full-throttled ending to an album littered with radio-friendly cuts.

Yet at times it still feels like just another Metric record- very much a step sideways rather than any massive leap forward; the album sags a little in the middle and tracks like Gimme Sympathy feel like a 'will this do?' effort rather than anything truly emotive. Worrying also are those brief moments when Metric do briefly foray into something different- namely the ambient swirl of Twilight Galaxy and Collect Call; these are amongst the weakest parts of the album, frustratingly lacking the intimacy and emotional pull that Emily Haines managed to process so successfully through her solo work. Haines herself sometimes seems conflicted between letting us fully into her head, which is why for every soul baring “I'm not suicidal I just can't get out of bed” we also get a rather opaque “spider versus bat/tiger versus rat/owl versus dove”. Sometimes it seems that the singer's ice cold delivery stands in the way of the listener ever truly getting to know what's going on in her head; but then perhaps that's the point.

And for the occasional dips that Fantasies contains, there's still enough to get excited about. When Metric get it right they get it spot on; the hooks are there, the melodies find their way into the necessary parts of your brain and the percussion firmly stomps mudholes in both your ears. Whilst in the future we may hope to see the four piece push beyond their comfort zone, for now it's just nice to have them back.