Metronomy: Small World (Because Music) - review | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Tuesday, September 27th, 2022  

Metronomy

Small World

Because Music

Feb 25, 2022 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


If there’s one constant in the life and times of Metronomy, it’s frontman and one-time only member, Joseph Mount. Acting as the titular metronome keeping pace through the group’s various iterations, Mount makes for an interesting lead; a constant muser on matters of the heart who can’t help but keep an ironic distance. But not this time. The advent of their latest revamp and corresponding record, Small World, sees a new Mount emerge, one at peace with his role as a romantic, and brimming over with hope for a world working past the last two years. Without his sardonic edge, however, there’s little to differentiate it from its ’90s pop influences.

Despite their association with the indie scene, Metronomy have long since kept their own beat, a rhythm that dates back to the abstract ambient electronica of Mount’s solo debut under the Metronomy moniker, 2006’s Pip Paine (Pay Back the £5000 You Owe). But it was on the melancholy funk-forward drive of 2008’s Nights Out that the band honed in on their differentiating factor, introducing Mount’s perpetually innocuous, but instantly recognisable husky vocals. With 2011’s The English Riviera, Metronomy announced themselves as an out-and-out pop act, albeit one made striking by Mount’s ruminations on unrequited loves and small-town psychosis. Each subsequent album added some novel new wrinkle to their sugary pop sheen, whether it was meta considerations of their own breakthrough on 2016’s Summer 08, or a fallback onto Mount’s solo recordings with 2019’s Metronomy Forever.

So what’s the differentiating factor here? Well, the latest swing of Mount’s musical pendulum has the outfit veer towards pop so soft it practically melts on contact with the eardrum. Trading in the synthetic bass licks that once formed the backbone of their gentle brand of electronic funk, Metronomy now drift along across a sea of inoffensive rhythm guitar, cruising forth on acoustic twangs, cutesy harmonics, and twee sentiments. There are hints of psychedelia, as on the washed-out “I lost my mind,” and an occasional bleeping synthline that cuts through the kitsch, but this is pretty straight-laced stuff. There’s even whistling.

Discussing Small World in a press release announcing the album, Mount laid out his inspiration: “I’ve been remembering what it was like as a kid when I’d be sitting in the backseat of my parents’ car and they’d be playing their music and I’d think ‘this is awful,’ but there’d be one or two songs I would like.” Yet despite his knowing wink at the jaunty pop of The Boo Radleys and the “inanely positive” ‘Shiny Happy People’ by R.E.M., this record is a mostly sincere effort to capture a nostalgia for the gentle breeziness of middle-of-the-road pop from years past. In that sense, it’s hard to say Small World is anything other than a success, but a success on those terms can’t help but feel like shallow mimesis. The best thing you can say is that it’s not awful.

Compared to the sprawling discursions of their last full length, Metronomy Forever (a ginormous 17 song undertaking, that threatened to clock in a full hour), this is a far more pared back affair, barely breaking the half hour mark. Where Forever was inspired by the excesses of Drake et al, wherein an album is more a morass of disconnected ideas, the suitably titled Small World narrows Mount’s vision. But without the creative divergences of its predecessor, you’re left with a fairly forgettable mush, saved only by its brevity. The same ear for a catchy, repetitive pop hook lingers, as on “It’s good to be back,” a track that proves Mount’s knack for a jaunty melody, but it lacks for a sentiment beyond beige post-pandemic optimism for the future.

If Small World clarifies anything, it’s that Mount was a ’90s dad rocker all along. What it doesn’t answer is who this record is for. Is it for the parents in the front seats, barely soaking in anything beyond the cheery chord progressions, or is it for the child in the backseat, praying for an end to the serene sedation? As the album closes with the mantric repetition “I have seen enough…” you get the sense Mount is pre-empting criticism of his lilt towards out-and-out mawkishness. All you can hope for is that the next swing of the metronome has a bit more weight to it. (www.metronomy.co.uk)

Author rating: 4/10

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