Saturday, January 14, 2012

Listening again to Metronomy's English Riviera

Metronomy's English Riviera was one of the most acclaimed albums of the last year (2011). I agreed with that consensus, but I'm further starting to think that it's a real classic (the sort of thing that'll be on 'end of decade' lists in 2020). So, let's listen through again, as if for the first time...

ER's first real track is the exquisite scene-setter, We Broke Free:

Airily Air-y, every note and timbre in its right place, ultra-precvise drums and percussion, a very 'dry' mix overall, nice. That's the sound of the record.
Onto the first single on the record (the actual fourth single released):

Roxanne Clifford (who? she's in a band called Veronica Falls and was in The Sexy Kids, but I don't know either of those) is drafted to do essential female vox. It's as livening for ER as Kim Deal is for The Pixies or Morgan Kibby is for M83. Great simple shaker percussion and handclaps matches a great, simple lyric about being surprised by love. The astringent ghost of Young Marble Giants' first record hangs heavily over this track, which is a good thing in my view. I wish I'd written this song. (Note that in my experience, at least when you're past 30 say,, and perhaps especially if you've been in a band or at least tried to write songs yourself at some point, it's always a good sign when an album has you asking yourself questions like 'Why didn't I write this?', 'This great song has always been "out there" to be discovered, why didn't someone else figure it out?' Not to mention if it provokes flat out envy and admiration: 'I wish I'd written this/I'd be so proud to have written this'!).
Now to ER's (actual and on the record) second single:

With its slightly spooky seaside fun fair feel, The Look has its Sea and Cake and eats it, topping off with a Winwood-y keyboard-trumpet fanfare/solo at the 3 min mark. Unbelievably tasty stuff.
Time for the lead-off single (third on the record):

Cooler and cooler. Twitchy bass and synth tones, feels a little Franz-ish overall but James Mount's restrained vocal unwinding into a repeated 'The Hours come...' refrain at the end of the track is the opposite of histrionic and is singular pure Metronomy delight. Probably the killer blow: listening from the beginning of the record, as with Let Down on OK Computer this is the track that inspires love. The album has you bad now.

Trouble's title reminds us of Coldplay's first album and sure enough the track does sound a little like that, albeit with enough touches to prevent anything too ernest or saccharine from breaking out. It's like all of the good song-writing and arranging ideas from Parachutes (since largely abandoned by Coldplay) bundled into one song, only without any of the irritating bits.
The third single (fourth on the actual album):

A fun imaginary travelogue, but The Bay's retro-disco beat is only OK in my view. This is the first track on ER that doesn't conspicuously over-achieve.

Loving Arm is more conspicuous coolness. Nice keyboards.

Corinne is the most rocking song on the record (so far and overall). Female vox return for the first time since Everything Goes My Way, although this time it's drummer Anna Prior chiming in. Great stuff.

More dry coolness. Not going to be everyone's cup of tea (but neither is Air or Stereolab or Jon Brion-period Aimee Mann, all of which are points of reference here), but I like it a lot. Drums rock out at the end, mad PA organ comes more front and center than its been before. Whirlygigs and bumper-cars, and pier-end funfairs - six minutes of English fading entropy perhaps. That fades into the final track:

A bit darker, what is going on here? Is the Metronomy show at the end of time now, careering off the rails, with sex pushing through the cool gentility ('She wants it all the time')? Mount plays his cards close to his chest at the end here. No, this record will stay in its comfort zone.

In sum, ER is an intensely contained record, rather like a Graham Greene or Iris Murdoch novel. It's obviously a 9/10 or 10/10 album - not a duff track on it and you want to listen to the whole thing again immediately to give its elements more chance to sink in. The absence of incredible highs and lows is inherently a little disturbing and makes its potential classic status difficult to judge. If I had to guess tho' I'd say that ER is going to be seminal. Like, say, the Cure's Disintegration or MBV's Loveless, ER is an exercise in purity and fastidiouness. It finds a note and a space and holds it. That sort of restraint and control risks boring people, but the purity will beguile if you can get on its wavelength, and over time, I'd say that more and more people will. I could be wrong, but with ER, Metronomy have announced themselves as a classic band, prepared to play the legacy/waiting game for an audience to grow behind them. Good for them and for us.

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