“All I know how to do is tour,” drawls Metronomy frontman Joseph Mount. He’s talking about the inspiration behind their fourth album, ‘Love Letters’. Released in March 2014, work began almost two years earlier as the Devonshire quartet toured for the acclaimed ‘English Riviera’. It’s the album which cemented Metronomy’s commercial success. However, for all we’ve come to love the eccentric crew, Love Letters, while still a masterpiece in its own right, breeds the essence of tortured artists.
Arriving in 2006 with the LP ‘Pip Paine’ (‘Pay the £5000 You Owe’), the edgy opener ‘You Could Easily Have Me’ forewarned the identity of this band. The album never really developed or settled down. It’s rapidly manic and low-key overtones made a silhouette for Metronomy’s staple production: organ synths, wonky beats and percussive twangs – the crème-de-la-crème of pop-infused odysseys. This 2011 release, jump started by acoustic hardware and electronic production, is proof that Metronomy have stuck to their roots. It’s an illogical progression, considering multiple layering resurged with a cleaner cut style, but unsurprising at that.
‘Love Letters’ preach disengagement. On a first listen, it’s repetitive and underwhelming. On the second, it oozes dark intelligence. Mount’s ability as a songwriter is clearly distinguished, with most of the ten tracks superbly written. The listener lumps together similarities from, as Mount describes it, “up its own arse intelligent dance music”. It’s the nu-rave era those in their early twenties look back on with wistful embarrassment – “neither intelligent nor dance,” but at least we appreciate the lead vocalist’s honesty. It’s the same truth we see in his songs.
‘Love Letters’ fawn over the same issues that, well, a love letter would: heartache, splitting up, getting together, the stars – it’s basically the ingenious fluff inside Mount’s head. Once you’ve come to terms with the Morrissey-esque benignity of the album, it’s easy to fall very deeply into it.
The analogue production – which Mount says is his “little venture” – is fitting to the band’s heritage. Recorded in Hackney’s Toe Rag studios, Metronomy quietly follow the likes of Madness, The Kills and The White Stripes. Their latest record is obviously very personal to the main man. Indulgent or charming, it’s up to you to decide. When the melodies and simplicity do come racking in, placed alongside Mount’s crackly voice and retro synthesisers, my bet is you’ll forgive the maverick attitude.
It should be said, however, this isn’t a concept album comparable to marmite, unlike their previous accolades. ‘Love Letters’, like the title track, is a boxy but organic tribute (to whom we’re not quite sure). The line ‘I keep on writing’ is sprung from Mount himself while the call of ‘Love letters’ is a dusky harmony from drummer and vocalist Anna Prior.
Admittedly, Mount’s monotonous frailty borders pain-in-the-ass powerless singing, however, for Metronomy fans, it’s not like you weren’t expecting that.
‘Boy Racer’ has the funky dance glare of the 2008 album ‘Night Out’. The drums are toy-like but they provide a healthy beat. Whistling flute percussion, jazzy bass lines, an undisputed melody and wild juxtapositions affirm the unconventionality and eccentricity of the English four-piece.
A certain stand-out track is the first release, ‘I’m Aquarius’. No real connection to astrology or Lovers Rights, just plain old clever word choice. Mount’s quivering voice protrudes this track, creating an eerie, simple and all-encompassing electricity.
The lyrics are quite simply beautiful. The lo-fi analogue is on point with the ripple of baby synths underplaying Anna Prior’s “shoo doo doo ah”. The whole track is a surreal composition – it’s sleek and sensual, and that’s before we’ve even mentioned the video. Directed by Frenchman Edouard Sailer, this production is certainly not lo-fi. It’s a big budget music lick although no fancy computer techs are playing with the editing software. It’s spacey and four-dimensional, and strangely familiar. Sphynx cats envelop a mis en scène of burning suns, an alien goddess and derelict eternity. Mount travels the cosmos, fluctuating in his human astronaut suit, eyes blue, calm and staring. You feel his existence threatened by the super universe that’s filled with weird theories. It’s odd, to say the least. Futuristic and otherworldly, just like Metronomy.
Die-hard fans might not instantly like this album, but after careful contemplation, and trust of Mount’s words, we realise they’ve not stuck to what they do best and explored an improved style. That has to be applauded.
The closing track ‘Never Wanted’ reinvents the band as the guys who made it and now wallow in puddles of pity. As the soft English accent whispers “it only gets better” as a reference to all that’s bad about the music business, it kind of makes you feel disdain for Mount. There’s nothing worse than a musician complaining about the project that makes them loads of money. That being said, ‘Love Letters’ is not a sell out. For the near annoyance of the Devon-born crew, they’re undeniably talented. The word “idiosyncratic” has been used a lot to describe Metronomy’s fourth album. It’s an apt description, and the reason we’ll always go back for more.