Metronomy - The English Riviera
Released: 11 Apr 2011
Style: Art Rock
Arctic Top Track: The Look
Review by: Rich Pickings - 20th June 2011
Just under a year ago, Everything Everything released Man Alive, one of 2010's most original but opinion splitting works. For some it's epileptic time signatures and lyrical complexity seemed designed specifically to isolate the listener, for others the polyglot creative twitchiness was a sign of genius. Either way, one thing was pretty clear; even in these days of a borderless, culture cloned planet, with it's nods to post-punk, diffident pop, Roxy, Bowie and XTC to name just a few, Man Alive could only have been conceived in Britain.
"What does Britain mean now anyway and all that" could fill a million Tumblr pages and is one of the century's most hijackable and hence fascinating themes (For the British anyway). The point was that like the multicultural smorgasbord that the island nation has become, Man Alive was a celebration of a thousand slivers of British-ness, both ancient and new, with a distinct lineage that could be traced down from the musical auteurs of the 1970's. The English Riviera is another one.
Metronomy front man Joe Mount was born in Totnes, a small West Country town in Devon in which it's possible according to it's wikipedia entry that "One can live a bohemian lifestyle". It's other famous sons include Jimmy Cauty, and it's famous previous residents include Charles Babbage. Mount now splits his time between London and Paris, but for the band's third album he's unashamedly chosen to thematically mine the cradle of his adolescence. To clarify, the Riviera in question is a contrivance of the Devon tourist board, referring to the palm lined streets of nearby Torbay, a haven for the genteel blue rinse set by day and marauding gangs of lary hedonists after dark. As fiendishly contrasting backdrops go, it's damn near perfect.
Change has come in the three years since the release of the band's second album Nights Out, with the departure of longstanding member Gabriel Stebbing and the addition of drummer Anna Prior, formerly of LightSpeed Champion, and bass Gbenga Adelekan. And after recording both Nights Out and it's predecessor in his bedroom, Mount and the rest of the now fully fledged band this time relocated to studios on either side of the channel, to thrilling effect.
Whether as a result of the additional personnel or the all for one recording process, the alteration in mood is highly perceptible, from the gloomy crying seagulls and archaic harmonium of the titular opener to the tweedy boffin techno of closer Love Underlined. In between Mount sketches portraits of an enervated small town, one which he points out on The Bay "Isn't Paris, Isn't London, Not Berlin, Not Hong Kong", whilst during the hallucinatory space disco chorus aliens prepare to lift off from by the duck pond, ready to transport everybody back to the mothership.
Those looking for points of reference back to Nights Out will struggle. One of the biggest evolutionary steps is in Adekelan's bass, it's sinew recalling Japan's Mick Karn, especially on the elegantly Japan-esque intro to She Wants. Another is the presence of Veronica Falls singer Roxanne Clifford, collaborating firstly on the wafer thin understatement of Everything Goes My Way, but then squashing melodies flat to spectacular effect on the twisted new romanticism of Corinne: eat your heart out, Ladytron.
If all of this sounds like it was made by rewired Cabbage Patch dolls long forgotten and lying buried in sand beneath the esplanade, The English Riviera's best moments are to be had inside The Gaumont, it's glassy eyed punters pirouetting drunkenly around a pile of second hand bingo cards. Here the bygone organ which haunts The Look just needs a spectral voice to call two fat ladies in the background, as on the dancefloor Darby and Joan frug to Mount's attempt at being either Hall or Oates. In a 2011 mired in complete, over enthusiastically received mediocrity it's a sublime, cortex-fucking nuance which confirms that Metronomy have managed to splice the beigeness of Reggie Perrin's England with avant garde pop using the skill of a thousand Magnus Pykes.
Of course the idea of making "British" records is ridiculous in the twenty-first century. But in it's thirty seven minutes The English Riviera takes all our baggage and recycles it into oddity, tension and intrigue packed in bite size parcels, just the right dimensions for our former colonial minds to appreciate. It's a resort you'll never want to leave.