Metric hasn’t graced us with the presence of an album in four years (sure, there have been soundtrack contributions, but those were not nearly enough to subdue a Metric fan’s appetite). An entire presidential term without them has been almost unbearable, but, with Synthetica, the quartet proves that time has only ameliorated their music. Differing slightly from 2008′s Fantasies, Synthetica explores a theme grounded in deciphering what is real from what is not. Haines herself noted, ”Synthetica is about staying home and wanting to crawl out of your skin from the lack of external stimulation…about forcing yourself to confront what you see in the mirror when you finally stand still long enough to catch a reflection…about being able to identify the original in a long line of reproductions.”
The first track, “Artificial Nocturne,” cuts straight to the point with the lyrics, “I’m just as fucked up as they say,” owning up to the melancholic tone lead singer Emily Haines is known for. “Youth Without Youth,” the first single from the album, segues into a more rock-tinged, angsty sound as Haines examines the notion of what environmental factors can do to detract from one’s innocence as she growls, “Youth without youth/Born without time/Can you read my mind?”
Next up is “Speed the Collapse,” with an intro that vaguely resembles The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps,” and stands out as one of the best tracks off the album. With occasional utterings of “Ah ah ah ah,” one is reminded slightly of Ariel in The Little Mermaid. The lyrics of the song hold a certain amount of profundity, but are strung together in a somewhat non-cohesive framework, with sentences like, “We auctioned off our memories” and “Feet don’t fail me now” (a phrase you may recognize from Lana Del Rey’s “Born to Die”).
“Breathing Underwater” has a distinctly U2 sound, but with a far less maudlin air. Haines, in her voice of innocence, questions her identity in the modern world, likening her existence to the difficulty of, yes, breathing underwater as she sings, “Out of place all the time in a world that wasn’t mine/Is this my life?/Am I breathing underwater?” The inquisitive motif prevails with “Dreams So Real,” showcasing Metric’s best synth ability since “Twilight Galaxy.” The hair-raising backbeat pairs well with the lines, “Thought I made a stand/Only made a scene…/A scream becomes a yawn/I’ll shut up and carry on…/Anyone not dying is dead, baby it won’t be long.”
“Lost Kitten” is the most pop-addled offering from Synthetica, and arguably the most forgettable. “The Void” follows, with a scratchy intro that transitions into an electro-laden beat. As Haines admits, “All night, like a child, I stay up to prove I can keep up with you/All night sing along with the band, losing my voice.” For a song called “The Void,” it is lyrically among the most superficial of the tracks. Subsequently, the title track serves as an uptempo midpoint on Synthetica in which Metric explores the main concept of the album: Real vs. fake and how difficult it has become to differentiate between the two. Metric’s poignant songwriting paints the following portrait:
“In the shadow of the big screen, everybody begs to be redeemed… /I can think for myself/I’ve got something no pill could ever kill/Hey, I’m not synthetica, I’ll keep the life I’ve got/So hard to resist synthetica.”
In an interview with sound editor Sean Adams, Haines speaks honestly about the inspiration for the album being so many people–herself included–willing to accept imitations and mediocrity. Haines laughingly sums it up by saying, “I got so used to certain things sucking that I forgot about them sucking anymore.” This much is evident on the ninth track, “Clone.” With a sound that is subtly similar to College’s “A Real Hero,” “Clone” is one of the slower songs on the album, and emphasizes Haines’ message as she sardonically asks, “Can you clone me?/I look like everyone you know now.”
The second to last song, “The Wanderlust,” is appropriately ethereal for the most narrative piece on Synthetica, with Haines detailing a train ride she takes with no particular destination in mind, merely taking a trip for the sake of sanity, vocalizing, “I’m speeding out of reach/You’re the one I had to meet/I never wanted to go home/ There was nothing there for me.” The song also bears the singularity of having Lou Reed on backing vocals.
The denouement, “Nothing But Time,” revels in a dramatic pace as Haines repeats warningly, “Steal once, pay twice.” It seems the perfect choice to conclude an album that denounces the concept of mimicry without acknowledgement of the original entity.