Though nearly a household name in Canada, Metric remains relegated to the alterna-indie ghetto down here in the States. And judging by the thundering pop production of Fantasies, the band seems intent on changing their U.S. status. Prior releases, including 2005's Live It Out, benefited from peculiar arrangements and raw sounds, with vocalist Emily Haines gracing the music with soaring and irresistibly tuneful melodies. She sang screeds against imperialism and aggression with an almost playful manner, perfectly matching a similar and striking dichotomy within her band's music. Though their music wasn't perfect, it boasted a unique perspective on new wave-inspired rock as well as the promise for a genre-shifting future record.
Sadly, Fantasies is not that record. While it continues Metric's new-wave/loud-rock amalgam, the songs themselves fail to leave much of an impact. It's surprising how safe the band plays it on their first self-released record; there's a paucity of novel ideas and risk-taking. Metric seems as if they want to be a stadium-playing pop band, and perhaps the most glaring flaw on the album is the shortage of hooks to back up the pop-star ambitions. The band unwisely choses to burnish the rough edges of their previous material, effectively eliminating their earlier charm.
As a whole, the record sounds unfinished. It's as if Metric recorded a batch of demos and neglected to complete them. The loud production serves almost as a disguise for weak songs, soaking the material in a speaker-shaking bass-heavy gloss. "Front Row" and "Gold Guns Girls" are the most egregious examples of this empty bombast. Though certainly polished enough for Top 40 radio (not that such a thing is relevant anymore), they lack the bite to back their bark. "Twilight Galaxy" could have been an endearing, gentle ballad on par with Haines's solo output, but it lacks the memorable melodies necessary to lift it out of mediocrity.
Fantasies has its moments. "Sick Muse" hinges on guitarist James Shaw's Andy Gill/Bernard Sumner-inspired skeletal riffing, propelling the energy of the song and segueing perfectly into the rousing chorus. And if ever a song begged to serve as the soundtrack to an iPod commercial, it's the simmering, dance floor-booming "Gimme Sympathy." The song is reminiscent of Haines's and Shaw's other band Broken Social Scene, and is sure to be an in-concert highlight. Haines sounds most comfortable singing within the confines of quieter moments like the keyboard-driven "Collect Call." The clean guitars intertwine beautifully with her melodies, while electronic sounds pop and sizzle in the background. Fantasies yearns for more of such vulnerable, somber passages.