Today marks the release of PAGANS IN VEGAS — the sixth full-length album from canonical Canadian Indie Band Metric, and a record title so spectacular that I cannot seem to keep myself from writing its name in all caps.
Metric’s hard-edged, glinting brand of dance pop is sharp as ever. Album opener “Lie Lie Lie” slinks its way through a melody both snap-along and sinister until slipping into a hypnotic one-word chorus that recalls Chasidic chants; second single “Cascades” bops along to a toe-tapping beat with lyrics barely discernible through a shimmering curtain of robotic distortion; “Blind Valentine” seesaws between flat petulance and bright, anthemic nostalgia. These songs are blue neon, silver glitter, black leather, electric current — the same stuff Metric has always been made of. What differentiates Pagans most from its predecessors is how emotionally resilient it seems. To date, Metric’s most popular single (“Help I’m Alive,” from 2009’s Fantasies) is a song about the terror and confusion of being alive; 2012’s Synthetica starts with a grandiose proclamation of I’m just as fucked up as they say, and Emily Haines herself wrote in a letter on the band’s website that the album was “about forcing yourself to confront what you see in the mirror when you finally stand still long enough to catch a reflection… about what is real vs what is artificial.”
If Fantasies is about being terrified by reality, and Synthetica is about interrogating it, Pagans In Vegas might just be about coming to terms with it. This is the kind of album you get after having torn your own guts out ten thousand times and traced your fortunes on the filthy floor so often that you can start poking fun at yourself, as in “Too Bad, So Sad,” the chorus of which intersperses flippant, sardonic, cowgirlish woo hoo! cheers between the pleas of a self begging get me out of this state I’m in.
The emotional crux of the album comes from lead single “The Shade” and the immediately subsequent “Celebrate.” They’re big songs, movie montage music, shiny and soaring and shot through with just enough melancholy to make your heart twinge. I want it all, I want it all, goes the chorus of “The Shade,” but there’s nothing desperate or gasping in the refrain, just a kind of expansive joyousness, the open-hearted revelation of someone who feels, at long last, ready to embrace the whole flawed beautiful world with a whole flawed beautiful self. We got the sunshine, we got the shade. This is an album about coaxing yourself along, about reassuring yourself to keep going, even when, as Haines sings, It’s hard to see from where I stand / there’s a future close at hand and it’s worth living.
This is an album about choosing to tell yourself you are alive, you are a real person, and you are deserving of being so. The lead single from Synthetica, “Breathing Underwater,” goes They were right when they said / we were breathing underwater / Out of place all the time / In a world that wasn’t mine to take. In “Celebrate,” Haines counters: I’ve been blessed and I’ve been cursed / I’ve been the best, I’ve been the worst / now I’ll take what’s mine.