Emily Haines is still singing with a disarming confidence, her lingering, ultra-feminine voice carrying just the right edge, making her sweetness that much sexier.
Metric’s latest album is actually their oldest, though you wouldn’t know it. Grow Up and Blow Away was previously unreleased until now, but this album is just as strong, if a little overly ambitious, than what would follow.
Metric couldn’t find a label to release Grow Up and Blow Away, but they soldiered on and hit the radios (in Canada anyway) almost four years later with "Combat Baby", which sparked so much attention that their album, Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? landed on many critics’ lists as the best of 2003. They seemed so great, where did these quirky Canadians come from anyway? Just like many so-called overnight successes, Metric had been building up to their breakthrough album for years.
Focusing now on their newest release, by focusing on the past, Grow Up and Blow Away reveals that even at its inception, Metric was still a great band. This is a great album for the fans, full of interesting experiments and diverse sounds that are both very close to the Metric heard later, and also wildly different. In fact, wild enough that they reminded me at times of another deceptively soft Canadian group from the '90s, the Wild Strawberries.
So it’s all the way back to 1999, but Emily Haines is still singing with a disarming confidence, her lingering, ultra-feminine voice carrying just the right edge, making her sweetness that much sexier. "On the Sly" is the most 'classic' Metric song, hinting at the fuller rock sound they’d come to embrace. Between dancing guitar riffs, Haines listlessly purrs, "I want them to hate me" with such a great blasé attitude that it sounds more like a pickup line than a threat or a taunt. Oh, Emily, you're so cool. On the title track, mixed between almost Latin-influenced percussive beats, they create a lush atmosphere that is as good as anything they’ve done since. Haines sounds dance-sway sweet on "Hardwire" as well, though eerily like Nina Persson.
Sadly, and abruptly, one track -- "Rock Me Now" -- suddenly breaks this nice trend and stands out as something truly bizarre. The high-pitched, but male, vocals bring absolutely nothing but an unwelcome shift in focus and honestly sound like something written for some kind of weird stage production by a bunch of hippies or prog-rock people. You know, something you’d see Arrested Development’s Dr. Fünke’s 100% Natural Good-Time Family-Band Solution playing.
Aside from that odd and total miss, the remaining songs are pop/rock at heart with surprisingly jazzy and smooth grooves. There’s also an almost R’n’B beat to "The Twist", which could go so wrong but is carried by Haines’ effortless rhythm and softened by their well documented new-wave roots and influences. If it seemed at all like she was trying to be something she’s not, the whole thing would have crumbled apart. She’s back to her best on eponymous "Soft Rock Star", which winds and skips through a sonic soundscape of lilting vocals and reverberating keyboards.
There is less consistency to this album than what would come later, but it’s nothing outrageously disappointing. Even the weird "Rock Me Now" has some value in its WTF-Factor. It’s also somehow uplifting to hear a bunch of musicians appear so ready and confident in their material, despite somehow not having a record deal or the weighty tag of Next Big Thing hanging around their necks yet.
Although the sounds and styles kind of bounce back and forth, they are collectively appealing and an attractive synergy arises from the juxtaposition of being a little green mixed with brash confidence. It’s an interesting addition to their discography, and it’s pretty clear that Metric never really needed to grow up that much.