There are a lot of things you can call Metric, but enigmatic isn’t one of them. The band writes uniformly excellent songs emphasizing the alternately sultry then angry vocal talents of lead singer (and clear focal/marketing point) Emily Haines. On 2003’s Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? the band played chicken with the ghosts of new wave. Whether they were leaning on the beat and keyboard heavy end of a spectrum that might be anchored by Berlin or a more angular guitar sound, the band was remarkably good at finding a comfortable middle ground where melody and delicacy could share space with controlled rocking out. Instead of merely recreating this balancing act on Live It Out Metric has made a commitment to their louder guitar-centric side; they pile on the guitar chops and leave the beats to Haines’ other band Broken Social Scene.
“Empty”, the opening track, opens with a mellow keyboard wash lapping at your speakers like an incoming tide, soon a simple guitar measure chimes over the top and Haines breathy vocal tells us that “there was no way out, the only way out is to give in”. The song’s opening sounds very much like an outtake from Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?; it has the same tone, the same feel, the same organizing elements but this is no “Hustle Rose” there’s something sinister just below the surface of the song fueled both by Haines’ lyrics and the feeling that the band is holding something back. Then, at the two-minute mark, the guitars come and they come like an avalanche. The songs’ main lyrical refrain, “shake your head it’s empty, shake your hips, move your feet”, coupled with a decidedly non “dancey” wail of riff and feedback is easily interpreted as a refutation of the band’s former self while also an introduction of a new political viewpoint. In paying close attention to the lyrics you’ll find Haines’ worldview to be more world-weary. The clever, bordering on trite, proclamations that filled much of Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? have been unceremoniously dumped. It’s an unexpected edge, but a sensible (arguably necessary) reaction to the current state of the world.
After “Empty” the band doesn’t let up. There’s little rest as the band blasts through the riff heavy bombast of “Glass Ceiling” and “Handshakes”. The songs guitar heavy sound contrasted with Haines gentle nearly non-committal voice actually gives the songs an unexpected weight. It’s a delicious dichotomy that creates a heavy tension especially during Haines overtly political moments. She takes on the tone of an everywoman trying to make sense of an act of God. She doesn’t chastise her listeners as much as ask them to help her figure this whole thing out. “Handshakes” is full of undisguised contempt for the current American administration and naked consumerism in general. “Glass Ceiling”, a brooding distorted guitar anchoring the song, is all frank railing against complacency.
“Too Little Too Late” and “Poster of a Girl” give us back some of the keyboard based melody that we might have expected from Metric. But even here the keyboards are deeper and darker, tending to hold the songs back, where as they used to bubble towards the surface like pockets of air. “Monster Hospital” is an undisguised anti-war tirade set to blazing guitars and an almost geometric solo that’s all starts and stops, ninety degree angles and unforgiving fuzz.
“Police and the Private” gives us a slice of the “old” Metric: keyboard based, humming and buzzing, gentle and sweeping. It’s a resting point amidst the barrage and it’s well placed, a flower growing from a crack in the granite.
Live It Out is certainly no resting on laurels. This is the sound of a band striving to make sense of its environment; an environment encompassing elements political, emotional, and musical. When Metric sets to examining both these internal and external environments the sounds that they make are angrier, louder, and more biting. When you stop and look around it all makes a lot of sense.
// Notes from the Road
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