Metric haven’t had the easiest time earning respect. First they operated in the towering shadow of epic Canadian mega-band Broken Social Scene, who just so happened to release one of the finest indie-rock albums of all-time with 2002’s You Forgot it in People. But the further Metric have distanced themselves from the genre, swelling gradually into all-out arena-pop territory (and peaking in commercial viability with 2009’s Fantasies), they’ve been increasingly pegged as streamlined sell-outs.
It’s unfair to criticize Metric for “going pop,” since, well, they have every right to record whatever kind of music they want. The problem is that they’ve lost a great deal of spark and originality in the process. Continuing down Fantasies’ arena-rock/new-wave trajectory and committing to it even more rigidly, the appropriately titled Synthetica nearly always sounds wonderful but often feels empty.
“Youth Without Youth” pushes everything to the max: fuzz-bass, vocoder, polished arena-sized drums that snap with the breakneck, bulldozing subtlety of Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll pt. II.” Emily Haines’ once wondrous (and often fragile) voice is reduced to a soulless, auto-tuned characterization. “We played double-dutch with a hand grenade,” she sings—but there’s absolutely no danger here.
The otherwise lovely “Speed the Collapse” (which features some actual expressive singing) is emotionally drained by its mammoth, stadium-soaring sound. The title track’s Mountain Dew-jacked new-wave rush feels notably stale. Meanwhile, they face an entirely different problem on “The Wanderlust,” where Lou Reed’s constipated croak sounds horribly out-of-place amid the sugary “seven-day weekend” chime.
When Metric use their fancy studio tools to harness some subtlety, the results can be fabulous. “Breathing Underwater,” reaches an impressive level of epic balladry, with its liquid-y guitar chords, four-on-the-four bass drum throb, and dramatic, major-minor chord changes. There’s an elegant vulnerability on the bass-fueled electro-pop ditty “Lost Kitten.”
On Broken Social Scene’s indie-rock staple “Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl,” Emily Haines sang with a devastating, ethereal power—one generated from raw emotion and creativity. Listening to Synthetica today, it’s absolutely mind-blowing to realize this is the same singer.
“Nothin’ I’ve ever done right / Happened on the safe side,” she sings on “Clone,” her air-brushed chirp hovering over chiming guitars and glossy synths. “I look like everyone you know now.”