“Bam shika bam shika boom boom bom. Sha wang sha wang boom, sha wang sha wang boom!”. On paper, it may read like the nonsensical ramblings of the most seriously deranged, but that was actually one of the most exciting introductions to a song for the last decade. Monster Hospital by Metric (for that’s what it was) was a frenetic, brilliantly urgent slice of perfect guitar pop, on a par with The Rat by The Walkmen and Arcade Fire‘s Wake Up for one of the iconic songs of the mid-noughties.
Since then though, Metric have been in the curious position of treading water while completely evolving their sound. The Canadians’ last album was called Synthetica and, as that title suggested, saw them fully embracing a more synth-pop sound. On Pagans In Vegas that transformation is pretty much complete, with all songs built around an icy synth backing. Like most of Metric’s more recent albums, it’s great in parts but strangely hard to warm to.
Those great moments though, first of all: opening track Lie Lie Lie is the perfect opener, with Emily Haines spitting ire at the entertainment industry (“offer me a free lobotomy, got to be sedated to be seen, on the cover of your magazine”) as a bluesy guitar riff snakes between those slinky synth sounds. The Shade is similarly memorable, a barrage of keyboards and stuttering beats giving way to a glorious chorus that sounds very like Lauren Mayberry’s Chvrches at their very best.
So there’s much to enjoy on Pagans In Vegas – Haines may not have the widest vocal range, but she imbues each song with a tonne of energy and charisma, and James Shaw’s production gives each track a solid, polished sheen – Fortunes even has that dreamy, euphoric edge that M83 seem to have perfected. For Kicks also has a doomy, portentous sound to it, reminiscent of late-period Depeche Mode at times, and Too Bad So Sad ramps up the tempo for one of the more danceable moments on the album.
The trouble is that there seems to be a fair amount of Metric on autopilot on Pagans In Vegas. The over-reliance on synths sometimes makes the songs sound a bit dated. A few years ago, there was a plethora of songs that were heavily influenced by Cliff Martinez‘s score for the film Drive and much of Pagans In Vegas recalls that time, especially the Shaw-sung Other Side, which doesn’t even feature Haines on vocals.
Then there are the songs that are just pretty bland and forgettable, such as The Governess or Blind Valentine, or the misfire that is Cascades, a song which drenches Haines voice in auto-tune and has an immensly irritating over-reliance on a glitchy 8-bit keyboard motif. And while closing track The Face is nice enough, in a laid-back, sunny ‘end of film’ credits way, there’s way too much vocoder, and it’s dragged out far beyond its natural lifespan by the superfluous ‘part two’ which ends the record.
It’s all a bit frustrating, because somewhere inside Metric is a truly great album just itching to get out. Apparently, they’ve already recorded a follow-up to Pagans In Vegas due for release in 2016 which has been made entirely with analogue instruments. It’s a ‘back to basics’ move that could see them recover their former greatness. Meanwhile, this is more of a curate’s egg of an album than anything else.