It is very common for me to find out about bands in very uncool ways. For example, my first exposure to Soul Coughing was an old promo on Cartoon Network. The reason I started listening to The Go! Team was that one of their songs was used in a trailer for Little Big Planet. I know about The Ditty Bops because their songs were used in the first season of Grey's Anatomy.
(As a random aside, the first season of Grey's Anatomy also featured a lot of songs by Tegan and Sara from the So Jealous album. Later seasons used other bands, but somewhere in the third season there was a flashback. I instantly recognized that it had to take place around the first season because there was a Tegan and Sara song playing in the background. I assume I am probably the only one obsessive enough to recognize this.)
But this is not about any of those bands, this essay is about Metric. I learned about Metric (and Plumtree and Sloan but again, this is about Metric) from Scott Pilgrim. In the comic, Scott's ex-girlfriend is in a band based on Metric and her character is more-or-less directly inspired by Metric's singer, Emily Haines.
The first two Metric albums have this sense of urgency to them, sounding like Emily Haines has been kidnapped and the songs are the only message she can send to the free world. This is especial true for the second album, Live It Out. I mean, the cover art literally shows Haines drowning, her face just bobbing above the surface of the water struggling to breathe.
The lyrics to the third song on the album, Handshakes, are of the standard anti-commercialism punk rock mentality, discussing what we give up to "get ahead". But the song really takes off at the end when Haines shouts the words "Buy this car to drive to work / Drive to work to pay for this car" over and over again. The constant refrain representing the futility of life as it wears you down. As trite as that may be, it was like a marching order to me as at the time I was on my own deathmarch at work during the six months I obsessively listened to the album every day.
Monster Hospital sounds like you are under attack from the very opening moment, with Haines screaming, the music matching the lyrics' urgency. On Patriarch On A Vespa she grows the words as if competing with the guitar before giving way to a great breakdown and guitar solo.
The album ends with the title song, Live It Out, that ties the whole thing together. It is a song about making choices, a song of second chances and making the most of what you have. I think this is a large portion of why this album sticks with me. The song is fast, but after the 37 minutes of high-strung tension Live It Out brings catharsis with its lyrics and overall sense of hope.
I find my relationship with Metric to be troubling. They are definitely one of my favorite bands, but I am only really in love with the first two albums. I really hate to be that sort of fan, but I cannot help it. I never connected with the third album (a collection of early songs) and their newer stuff is too mild for me.
The fourth album, Fantasies, was released right as I was at the peak of my obsession with them. The first single, Help I'm Alive, is amazing. If it were a minute shorter I would put it on my short list of songs that are completely, 100% perfect.
The problem is that the rest of the album is... nice. Some of the songs are poppy, some of the songs are hooky, some of the songs are, of all things, fun. It feels as if the first two Metric albums were fighting an invisible war against some omnipotent injustice, Fantasies is where they gave up the fight. I guess I could say they "sold out", but I would never say it like that.
It only gets worse (to me, anyway) with the newest album, Synthetica. My first reaction to the single, Youth Without Youth, was that "it sounds like club background music on a CW show" and that has not changed with repeated listens.
Oddly enough, before Fantasies was released, the band was on hiatus while Emily Haines released a solo record and EP. These songs were all slow, incredibly depressing piano songs that sound like dirges for suicidal orphans. I recognize all of the elements that I like from early Metric in these songs, but they go too far in that direction for me. It is too emotionally taxing to listen to.
That said, the story goes that Emily Haines was in the middle performing a solo show, singing these super sad songs, when she decided that she had had enough. From the Fantasies press release, "She didn't want to be sad anymore." So it makes total sense that Fantasies marks a new direction for the band, and far be it for me to criticize anyone for growing and changing with time.
Listening to the last two Metric albums says to me that they managed to rise above the terrible world of 2005. They found a place where the music they make now can be fun in ways that the first two albums are not.
I saw them in concert a few weeks ago and it only confirmed my theory that they no longer have any need for anger. They still put on a great show, and nobody else has a stage presence like Emily Haines, but they are not angry any more.
I can only hope with time the same will happen to me.