It's undeniable that Metric's output has softened considerably over the past decade, settling into a formulaic groove. If their fifth album, Synthetica, is any indication, the Toronto electro-rock group has finally completed the drift toward pop homogenization, reaching a zenith—or, more appropriately, nadir—in distortion-drenched tedium. The title "synthetica" might have been chosen to reflect Metric's penchant for draping everything they perform in an electrified drone, but it's better used to describe the album's artifice: gray, plastic songs that constitute the latest round of play-it-safe modern rock. And there's a considerable amount of disingenuousness languishing beneath all the barbed fuzz: Opener "Artificial Nocturne," for example, finds lead singer Emily Haines declaring "I'm just as fucked up as they say" with all the sincerity she usually musters—which is to say, none.
For a large chunk of the album, the band seems to assume that Haines's ice-queen snarl somehow lends Synthetica's bland, hookless milieu a cool irreverence, but more often than not, what's supposed to be punk-ish detachment often plays like the group is bored by their own material. "I look like everyone you know now," Haines moans sleepily on the plodding "Clone," providing a startlingly accurate evaluation of the band's pedestrian output, while the half-enunciated claim that "a scream becomes a yawn" on the amorphous "Dreams So Real" offers a pretty good indication of Synthetica's dullness.
Perhaps most problematic is Metric's failure to emotionally engage their listeners with any consistency. Haines recently told Spin that Synthetica is "about what is real versus what is artificial," but there's little contrast to speak of: The music is heavily programmed and mechanical, the vocals callous and distant, and every song is a poker-faced exercise in resigned indifference. Haines herself has come a long way down from her star turn on Broken Social Scene's plaintive "Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl," and it's becoming increasingly apparent that she's starting to phone in the chic rock posturing. Which might be irrelevant anyway: It's hard to imagine a rock persona past or present that could bridge Synthetica's charisma gap, or rescue its offerings from the fate of banal radio fodder.