There’s a bit of pressure on Metronomy with this one you imagine. They’ve had their critical champions for a long while – 6Music’s Marc Riley is addicted to them – but 2010’s English Riviera album propelled them into greater orbit, tracks like The Look gaining ubiquity in certain circles and leaving them with a weight of expectation. More importantly, the album seemed to render their artistic vision perfectly, right down to the stylised beach artwork on the cover. Was English Riviera their career statement or was there anything left in the tank?
Well, I’m pleased to say, the tank still seems pretty much full. With Love Letters, Metronomy have managed to tread that fine line – not tweaking a winning formula too much but still finding a new dimension to their sound. The album is identifiably Metronomy, but it is a Metronomy of a more sombre hue. Where English Riviera was a breezy summer’s day of an album, Love Letters is a fading September evening.
‘The Upsetter’ is a particularly downbeat opener, but sets the album’s mood perfectly. It’s a tune of lo-fi beats, acoustic strumming and a pleasing West Coast guitar outro. A lyrical nod to the previous album also perhaps signposts their new direction – ‘back out on the Riviera, it gets so cold at night’. We also get an indication of the cheese you might be subjected to if Metronomy DJ your party – “We live in 1992 here / playing ‘Sleeping Satellite’ / playing Prince and Deacon Blue yeah / playing ‘I Will Always Love You’, yeah”.
Pound shop beats also introduce ‘I’m Aquarius’, before a dainty little ‘shoo-doo-doo-aaah’ chorus kicks in. In fact, expensively underwhelming production is another hallmark of this album. They seem to have gone to a lot of time and effort to make this sound like they haven’t spent a lot of time and effort on it.
The title track opens with funereal brass (think Radiohead’s ‘Life In A Glasshouse’), before bursting into life as a bar-room piano stomp with a sweet girl-group chorus line (think Squeeze circa ‘Cool For Cats’ or the Style Council). Boy Racers also gets its hooks in you, channelling the late Joe Meek for some catchy retro electronic good times, a 21st century remake of ‘Popcorn’. That’s as bouncy as the album gets though. The computer harpsicord on ‘Monstrous’ gives it a mournful, medieval air not seen since the Stranglers, while the melancholy ‘Month of Sundays’ is almost Kinksian.
All in all, there are some crafty musical fusions in here that lift Love Letters far above your average electronic pop album. It’s a clever progression and a worthy companion to its predecessor. Metronomy have done good.