Review Summary: True to frustrating form… Too bad, so sad.
Technically speaking, the term “frustrating” doesn’t have to be a wholly negative connotation, does it" A near-perfect album could be frustrating in the sense that it isn’t quite perfect. The label could simply be one imposed by a taskmaster suggesting that improvements can still be made… or a pessimist who prefers to cite negatives over positives. No matter which way you look at it, Canadian indie-rockers Metric are a frustrating band. Unfortunately, that fact has not changed on the quartet’s slick sixth LP ‘Pagans in Vegas’.
Armed with one of the most charismatic and versatile vocalists in music, it really shouldn’t be all that difficult for Metric to consistently appeal. Enchanting and beguilingly ambivalent, Emily Haines can effortlessly transition from sweet to sour in an instant. There’s nothing wrong with the backing musicians either, as a tight rhythm section is well complemented by Haines’ fellow Broken Social Scene colleague James Shaw; a producer who not only excels in crafting winning synth melodies, but is also an unheralded guitarist. Unsurprisingly, the band’s discography contains some genuine quality: The supremely catchy ‘Monster Hospital’, the quiet/loud dynamics of ‘Empty’, and masterful crossover tunes ‘Help I’m Alive’ and ‘Sick Muse’. Regrettably, the band’s want for ambition and complexity has often hindered consistency… And when predecessor ‘Synthetica’ predominantly rectified that, the by-product was a disappointingly mechanical and unengaging affair.
‘Pagans in Vegas’ does begin well enough, with Metric’s retro new-wave influences recalling the likes of Depeche Mode and New Order. In amongst various bleeps, bloops and underlying disco influences, everything is well-balanced musically, with melodic riffs in abundance. The restrained intensity of opener ‘Lie Lie Lie’ and hooky lead single ‘The Shade’ especially stand out as impressive. Unfortunately, it all begins to go awry with a jarring transition into 8-bit and vocoder on the certain to be polarizing ‘Cascades’. Following that, everything bar the unabashedly playful ‘Too Bad, So Sad’ borders on filler. The sweet side of Haines’ voice goes a step too far on the still catchy ‘For Kicks’, while Shaw’s vocal contribution to ‘The Other Side’ is underwhelming. ‘Blind Valentine’ and ‘The Governess’ don’t do much wrong, but aren’t exactly memorable, while the two-part instrumental closer is proficient enough, but ultimately a meek and overlong eight minutes worth.
True to form, ‘Pagans in Vegas’ is not a bad album. If Metric were a sports team, a supporter might want them to bottom out, rebuild and get motivated to reach their true potential. The shark hasn’t necessarily been jumped here, but the patience of many listeners is likely to be wearing thin. It’s too harsh to suggest that the band are coasting, since there are once more fragments of ideas, concepts and melodies which arouse. It also may be a little unfair to accuse Shaw & Co. of compromising, since their want to explore and experiment is admirable. But something does have to change for Metric to arrest their downward trajectory. One way or another, album number seven may have to go all-in. Whether they should go all Kraftwerk on us, or ponder a more chart-baiting style will remain up for conjecture. Either way, it should at least quell Metric’s propensity to frustrate.
Recommended Tracks: The Shade, Lie Lie Lie & Celebrate.