In the Sci-Fi B-Movies of our youth, the production designers’ lack of attention to potential detail meant they inadvertently prophesied more than they perhaps intended. Blinded by the imperceptible limit of the boundaries of their ‘Now’, they unwittingly littered these pictures with tell-tale signs of their time: celestial soldiers’ sideburns, 25th Century Disco-Bots, Star Fleet-issue flared jumpsuits… basically mistaking their zeitgeistian accoutrements for unsurpassable. And in doing this, they inadvertently got it kind of right. In 2011, Our culture is leaden with the weight of expectation. Unable to learn from our History, we’re self-fulfilling the prophecy of ‘doomed to repeat it’. We look back, and mine the depths of a more forward-looking time in order to break new ground. New music is always going to be reliant on and imbued with the sonic bleed-through of its incumbents’ formative years, and there’s always an argument for trekking back if you feel you’ve overshot a road less traveled-by. But as we drifted toward the end of this Millennium’s inaugural decade, this over-reliance on rehashing the past had arguably accelerated rather than abated.
Selected songs from an industry-circulating sampler of The English Riviera have been encroaching on the insipid vanilla of English indie radio since the close of last year. While I initially dismissed them as just another glut of wanton ’80s recreationists, on repeat listens these songs’ moods burrowed under my skin and began to resonate, humming with an unease that delineated them from the rest of the wretched playlist. As the band name suggests there’s an unerring fastidiousness at work, and as is evident in many of their contemporaries a breezy emotional detachment too, but rather than the precise, if spastic percussive body blows of it’s predecessor Nights Out (which was in places a startlingly progressive and inventive record, if anchored by certain painfully retro party tricks) this time around Metronomy’s architect Joseph Mount (perhaps thanks to having remixed/produced the likes of Foals, Gorillaz, Lykke Li and Roots Manuva in the intervening years), has tempered everything to perfection, meaning its clinical execution doesn’t come at the cost of its soul. The English Riviera, as the gathering hype has been quietly but insistently attesting, sounds like a band approaching the serendipitous kismet of perfection.
The record takes its title from the particularly beautiful stretch of coastal resort along a portion of England’s South West coast, which bejewels the crown of Mount’s home county, and accordingly its album art has been transplanted directly from it’s tourist board’s promotional materials. Such considerations are sure to give rise to theorizing of some sort of underlying concept, but apart from the sweep of incoming waves crested with the intermittent screech of gulls which usher this record in, the narrative sticks predominantly with fairly standard boy/girl fare, albeit overcast with a fraught and troubled feel permeating throughout.
Surfing in on the aforementioned scene-setting field recordings is first track proper “We Broke Free,” which is reminiscent of a darker-tinged incarnation of Air, but mostly forgoing the electronica in favor of a straightforward four-piece rock band, but so atmospherically late ’70s you feel a synth onslaught can’t be far away. These instincts are proven momentarily correct when awkwardly pawed keyboards herald the entrance of “Everything Goes My Way,” which are then playfully pushed aside to give way to a jangly guitar-driven, finger-twisting ringlet of cutesy Girl-Pop, resplendent with multilayered harmonies to die-for supplied by Roxanne Clifford of Veronica Falls, whose deadpan delivery see-saws between blissfully optimistic & worryingly naïve. Centerpiece “She Wants,” driven by a snaking, malevolent bassline, is perhaps the song most redolent of a bygone era, and could in fact segue effortlessly into “Love Is The Drug” by Roxy Music, while “Trouble” is the sort of baroque pop you can imagine Bowie jettisoning in favor of “Drive-In Saturday.” But while these influences abound, there’s enough innovation to stave-off accusations of blatant plagiarism. If I were forced to voice any real complaints about the record, it’s that it blows its load too soon, but what it has keeps you coming back. Its not a Quantum Leap in musical advancement, and is admittedly mired by reliance on the past, but The English Riviera is a perfect postcard from a visit to a period whose potential, it turns out, was perhaps not fully explored or exhausted.
Just as England’s Riviera relies on foreign-association in asserting itself, Metronomy lean heavily on their influences, but Mount has spent 11 years spreading them taut enough, and forging sufficient idiosyncrasies of his own, that they don’t get in the way of some truly brilliant instances of pop songcraft. While I’m loath to predict the levels of success this wet weekend of a record might scale stateside, I implore you: ignore it at your own risk.
Kraftwerk – Computerwelt
OMD – Dazzle Ships
Roxy Music – Roxy Music
Video: Metronomy – “The Look”