“Fantasies” plays on Metric’s new wave synthesizer and guitar-driven sound, building on what they have developed over the past ten years. Like the title may suggest, the album explores what’s desired, unattainable or even just questions desirability, and the psychedelic beats create a dreamlike atmosphere. However, “Fantasies” gives us some of the most exciting tracks from Metric, ones that are among their best, but these exceptional songs are diminished by non-fulfilling, repetitive, and simply forgettable songs in between.
Lyrically, this album stands apart from frontwoman Emily Haines’s solo work on 2006’s “Knives Don’t Have Your Back,” which tends to focus on sad, even morbid images. It’s even a change from their last album “Live It Out,” released in 2005. It’s the least political record, and it’s less about Metric’s own history than it is about where the band wants to be. That’s not to say the subject matter doesn’t get dark, but it is sultrier and takes the band and listeners to a different place.
The album’s lead-in “Help, I’m Alive” starts with a strong, yet vulnerable, “I tremble.” The band offers a free acoustic download of “Help, I’m Alive” on their official website (ilovemetric.com). The album version rocks harder as Haines repeats, “Beating like a hammer,” but the line never breaks out into anything greater when it feels like it should. Like Britney Spears’s “Womanizer,” the song could do without the last twenty seconds – you don’t get anything new, and the repetition becomes unnecessary.
However, this record does deliver more than the first track would suggest. Haines’s sugary vocals are showcased more than ever on “Sick Muse” followed by one of their best tracks, “Satellite Minds.” These songs are catchy. Metric, though far from generic or inartistic, are essentially a pop band. They have had some success on Canadian radio and push their music as far as they can in the pop world, and being catchy isn’t their flaw. “Gimme Sympathy” is one song that could attract new listeners, and ironically asks whether they would rather be “The Beatles or The Rolling Stones.” This song more or less lets the band define themselves as they want.
While there are more forgettable (and probably weaker) tracks, the real letdowns are the songs that need to support the heart of the record. Like “Help, I’m Alive,” “Twilight Galaxy” leaves something to be desired. It sounds weak and out of place next to the strongest songs on the album. It’s actually a decent enough song on its own, if not a bit vague or boring. It’s comparable to songs like “Calculation Theme” and “The Police and the Private” on previous albums, especially with the synthesized intro, but it lacks the charm. “Fantasies” loses momentum from this change of pace after “Satellite Minds,” and the effect is especially noticeable going into the more aggressive “Gold Guns Girls.”
Another change of pace in the album is, again, a bit shaky, and it struggles to pick up steam again. At first listen, “Collect Call” sounds like nothing special. But the lyrics are strong, and it might feel more interesting after first listen. With “Front Row,” the guitars sound like they’re trying too hard to recreate the edge of “Live It Out.” They might be trying to drown out the melody, which is practically nonexistent anyway. This song was featured on an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” recently. In a funny way, it makes sense, as “Grey’s” is a show that makes big promises, but comes off as empty and overbearing.
“Blindness” almost makes up for the the disappointment of the previous two songs, but it’s too late and not catchy enough to bring the listener back into the album easily. Still, it’s an unlikely find and manages to pleasantly surprise.
“Stadium Love” has enough energy to wrap up the album. But as part of the Metric catalog, it is forgettable. It probably would sound really fun live, yet the ending already sounds like a drawn-out jam session. What more can they do with it on stage? The song is slightly reminiscent of Rilo Kiley’s “Spectacular Views,” which has a similar type of ending but pulls it off much better. And unlike the Rilo Kiley song, “Stadium Love” does not actually make sense. Someone could say that this fits the theme of “Fantasies” – unattainable, nonsensical dreaming – so they can take liberties. But it’s so easy and unimaginative to fall back on that excuse.
Despite the weaker tracks, Metric does know how to make an album. “Fantasies” ties together motifs and themes, such as fire, success and desire, rather than just compiling whatever songs the band could record. Overall, it’s worth it for fans to hear what the band has done in the past four years since they recorded “Live It Out,” and it’s catchy enough for those unfamiliar with Metric’s sound or history to enjoy.