Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Grow up and not blow away

This past week an exciting thing happened for Metric fans like me. Their long unreleased first album finally saw the official light of day. Recorded in 1999/2000 when Metric was just Emily Haines and James Shaw, Grow Up And Blow Away fell victim to the legal no-man's land between two labels, and Metric lost control of it. I can't imagine how frustrating that must be. Even though three of the tracks made it onto an EP in 2001, and much of the rest of the album was available on the internet, it felt like some kind of white elephant, and I expect it is cathartic for them to have it out and over with. (Then again, I could be projecting; at the moment there's barely a mention of the release on Metric's website...)

Grow Up And Blow Away has a handful of diverse gems. The title track is a jangly but dark soundtrack waiting for its film. 'Rock me now' is an ironic lounge set with a strange monologue that reminds me of Laurie Anderson. 'On the sly' is what could have been a brilliant single, something Stars must envy. ('I want them to hate me / so you can love me on the sly.') And closer 'London halflife' is the kissing cousin of Mazzy Star's 'Fade into you'.

It was with their second album, Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? that Metric really got started with their ever increasing appreciative audience. Appreciative bordering on rabid; do not pass up an opportunity to see Metric live because I guarantee they will kick your ass and take your name, and their fans definitely rise to the occasion. By the time Old World Underground happened, Metric had expanded from two to four, and their sound had evolved considerably.

Grow Up And Blow Away is a pop album with production that bears traces of the nineties in the form of some vaguely trip-hoppy rhythm section arrangements. There's a bit of everything in the mix, from electric to strummed acoustic guitar, and from piano to electro synth. The seeds of the rock album that is Old World Underground are there, though. The driving rhythm and oscillating synth line in the last third of 'Hardwire' blatantly foreshadows 'Hustle Rose' (they are each the second track on their respective albums.) Emily's voice, which is remarkable for its ability to be sweet and acerbic at the same time, emphasizes its softer shading on Grow Up And Blow Away, and its harder shading on Old World Underground. In many ways, Old World Underground is Grow Up And Blow Away with everything amped up a notch or two.

The intelligently aggressive rock of Old World Underground is taken a little further yet with Metric's third album Live It Out. But interestingly, Emily Haines's solo album this spring, Knives Don't Have Your Back, is light, minimal and acoustic, showing the strongest kinship if anything to Grow Up And Blow Away.

It's clear from following this band and seeing them live that they have paid their dues a few times over, and definitely deserve as much success as they want. Having Grow Up And Blow Away, even if it comes across as a musical step sideways now, is adding a welcome piece to the Metric puzzle, and I hope it at least gives them some closure on that bizarre early chapter.

Metric official website