Emily Haines is caught in limbo between mega guest vocalist and underappreciated frontwoman. Her band, Metric, has released its third record, Live It Out, and Haines is still most prized for her vocal work with indie darlings Broken Social Scene. Having galloped into the spotlight with her contributions to the Canadian collective’s breakout You Forgot It in People, the quirky vocalist saw her band suit up as a part of the BSS extended family only to run the route of mediocrity. Live It Out shows a similar drive to the band’s 2003 debut full-length, Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? But take away Haines and the record lacks the creative punch necessary to rise above her indie-rock celebrity.
Live It Out glistens thanks to the production of guitarist Jimmy Shaw, whose crisp approach isolates Haines’s distinctively playful vocals and whatever equally playful keyboard and guitar part works to support her energy. The approach could be considered fake or plastic, but for Metric, a band that relies so much on the interplay of polished melodies, the Pro Tools method accentuates the band’s best qualities. Opener “Empty” begins nonchalantly with a delicate two-minute intro until thrashing guitars and multi-tracked vocals soar over simple hard-rock chord progressions before the track returns to its original theme. Clearly, Haines is the star of the band, which is otherwise limited to a musical range of the infectiously catchy (“Poster of a Girl”), the straightforward rock-outs (“Monster Hospital”) or the tiresome filler (“Too Little Too Late”).
Metric’s songwriting tosses forth situations to be observed and judged, a refreshing alternative to presenting politics or protest as preachy statements. However, unlike such bands as Public Image Ltd. and Gang of Four, which used this approach to spin their lyrical agendas, Metric fails to touch on anything profound. Catchy tracks such as “Handshakes” (“Buy this car to drive to work/ drive to work to pay for this car”) push the punk-rock clichés a little far.
Even considering Live It Out‘s shortcomings, it’s a shame Metric will likely be overlooked again as “that band with the girl from Broken Social Scene.” But when you make a record that does little more to impress than plant Haines front and center and cater specifically to her strengths, it’s not too surprising when fans immediately revert to listening to “Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl,” no matter how strong the album is.
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