Has it really been nearly four years since Metric’s last album? Thanks to a steady stream of singles from Live It Out, constant touring and Emily Haines’ solo project Metric never really slid off the radar. That’s not to say that Fantasies hasn’t been eagerly awaited. During the last two years fans have bootlegged their every move as new songs from the road and MySpace were aired. For them it’s been an eternity.
Singer/keyboardist Haines and guitarist Jimmy Shaw have stated that the title and theme of Fantasies refers to trying to dream up a new world to live in. Instead of focusing on the things that were wrong in the world, this time it’s about looking ahead. This is no surprise given that Fantasies involved plenty of soul searching and upheaval during its gestation including Emily spending several months in Argentina, the band changing their record distribution model and including drummer Joules Scott-Key and bassist Josh Winstead in the song writing process. Fantasies finds the band at a crucial juncture, as despite a solid fan base the band seems to find itself on the periphery of mainstream success, perhaps acknowledged here on “Twilight Galaxy” (“Better shape up/If you want to succeed”)
Despite first single “Help, I’m Alive”‘s repetitive anxiety motif musically it’s a multi-faceted beast. There’s the electro drum machine intro, typical menacing vintage synthesizer Metric verse, guitar heavy pre-chorus and chorus then two ’70s rock breaks (think Boston’s “More Than a Feeling”) which sees Haines moving into falsetto range for perhaps the catchiest thirty seconds the band have ever committed to tape. “Sick Muse” describes the sacrifice of a relationship for a career which is built around one of Shaw’s thick electric guitar licks backed by acoustic strumming, while “Satellite Mind” has more of a darker electro edge and sees a snarling Haines drop the f-bomb.
“Twilight Galaxy”, an austere synth-ballad far removed from the poppy new wave versions played live, proves to be the cold heart of the album. When honey voiced Emily declares “There’s no glitter in the gutter” over a heartbeat paced drum loop, shimmering synthesizers and little else, it resonates deeply. But Fantasies‘ real centerpiece is the euphoric synth-pop blast of “Gimme Sympathy” where the question is posed: “Who’d you rather be/The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?” For Metric the correct answer is “both” as they prove by nimbly swapping between pop and rock genres throughout the ten tracks.
While the heavy handed political imagery of previous releases is a thing of the past there are several songs which display Haines’ displeasure with the world. “Gold Guns Girls” is a thrilling industrial rock rally against consumerism and man’s seemingly unquenchable greed, violence and lust. “Front Row” is the album’s hardest hitting track; — part metal guitars part ABBA melodies — which exposes the vacuousness of worshiping rock idols. The “burned out stars” described here are immature and psychotic damaged goods and the front row models who idolise them are not much better. Arena friendly closer “Stadium Love” seemingly stitches together a bunch of animal names which rhyme, eventually revealing itself as a critique about our adversarial nature and thirst for conflict.
It’s testament to Metric’s quest to create a cohesive disc that one of the best songs isn’t even included on the standard release. Available only on the deluxe (i.e. expensive) or pre-order editions, “Waves”, with its bittersweet acoustic backed verses and C86 cutesy chorus is indie-pop perfection. For most other bands this would’ve been the lead single, for Metric it’s a throwaway. The balance between Jimmy’s guitar and Emily’s keyboards, not always comfortable bedfellows in the past, are kept in check throughout and although Joules’ drumming is solid as ever Josh’s bass is noticeable by its absence. Whether replaced by keyboards or buried low in the mix you’re left wishing for some of the pummeling groove evidenced in the past.
Fans may decry the severe alterations given to some of the previously heard numbers and the exclusion of others (“Freddie/Black Sheep” and “Joyride” will come later we’ve been told) but really there’s little to fault here. Metric’s meticulous dedication and approach writing, recording and shaping the album has paid off in spades. It’s a good thing that Haines closes out the disc with “We’ve got stadium love” — because that’s exactly where Metric will be spending the next couple of years.