Michael Hann

Widescreen pop-rock that deserves to be better known: Metric, at the Roundhouse, reviewed

Plus: a tough, dynamic outfit from Vermont, and a band worth keeping an eye out for despite their terrible name

Metric, photographed by Justin Broadbent

Why aren’t Metric stars? In their native Canada, several of their albums have gone platinum, but the rest of the world? Not so much. Twenty-five years after Emily Haines and James Shaw formed the band, here they still are, playing to a not-quite-full Roundhouse to promote their eighth album, Formentera. It was a pretty good turnout – about 3,000 people on a Wednesday night in January – but I doubt anyone ever formed a band thinking: ‘In a quarter of a century, we might be able to not quite fill one of London’s mid-sized venues!’

Writing very good songs isn’t enough to take a band to the top, but Metric do write very good songs

All of which is a shame because they were flatly brilliant. Their default setting is widescreen, synth-tinged pop-rock, which may be why they never became stars. There was a lot of that stuff around in the first decade of this century, and Metric seemingly lacked the extra spark that lifted the Killers and Paramore into arenas and to the top of festival bills.

But there’s less of it around now – widescreen pop-rock retains its kudos only with those who compile montage sequences for sports broadcasting – which means Metric’s virtues are very much clearer than when every third band was doing something similar: the ferocity of ‘Monster Hospital’; the slinkiness of ‘Gimme Sympathy’; the ambition of the ten-minute opener ‘Doomscroller’, which passed through muted electronica and banging techno and piano balladry before delivering the widescreen pay-off; the pure synthpop of ‘Cascades’.

Perhaps there are practical reasons for their remaining at this level: Haines’s voice is truthful but thin (it sounded as though it had been double-tracked for this show – something big pop acts often do live – but I couldn’t be sure), which means the emotional tone of the vocals rarely changes.

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