There’s good reason why Joe Mount is often stripped of his surname only to have the name of his band tacked on the end. Joe Metronomy ostensibly is Metronomy. He writes most of the lyrics, comes up with most of the music and is the face of the group. Especially in its earliest incarnation, Metronomy was a one man act. Only as more albums have been made, and Joe’s songwriting has been fleshed out, has a fuller band been needed to compensate for a richer sound. Rarely does this scenario hamper a band’s sound more than it progresses it. Indeed, on Metronomy’s most recent album Love Letters, and on its predecessor The English Riviera, the added texture and the feeling of a whole band sound has been the biggest advantage to Joe. When he secedes the spotlight, Metronomy shine.
As someone fairly ambivalent to Metronomy’s music – pleasant to listen to, sometimes danceable fair – this contrast between the multi-talented solo act and the sum of all parts five piece was the most interesting and easy to decipher facet of their gig at Glasgow’s O2 ABC. When Joe Mount sat poised at his flashing rainbow keyboard while the other components either sat in darkness, abandoned their instruments for nondescript backing vocals or left the stage altogether, Metronomy seemed introverted, devoid of body and at times boring. However, on the tracks that allowed the others to shine (especially the rhythm section and especially their bass player, Gbenga Adelekan, who kept the whole crowd alive with his flamboyant charisma and physically enjoyable playing style) Metronomy 2.0 impressed me. Joe gave the current incarnation of the group the “2.0” suffix when their line up changed in 2009, and judging from this show, they’ve got things spot on.
While it would be over enthusiastic to suggest that Metronomy could reach the intensity live that would require adjectives like ‘raucous’, or ‘stompingly good’, there was a discernible difference in enjoyability from the crowd reaction, the band reaction, and even Joe Mount’s reaction, between the flat, lights dimmed solo ventures and songs such as the krautrock, highway speedchase of ‘Boy Racers’. The sequencing was also note perfect – every time the show hit a lull, the whole band would then proceed to bash out a loud crowd pleaser (read: every time the band retreated into the shadows, they’d burst back into the light to inject pace and fun).
Joe is clearly a talented musician, but I would doubt that his foresight stretched to the intentionality of knowing that playing songs in that order would work to his and the band’s advantage. Those paired down tracks are not bad – on record they are just as nice as the rest – but live they missed the energy that up-tempo songs provide and the emotion required to have success during the slow numbers was missing – a criticism that Metronomy, and Joe’s songwriting, have had to deal with for a while. Joe obviously has a hand in most, if not all, of Metronomy’s songs in one way or another (even if for Love Letters it has been insisted that band participation in the song writing had been at its highest since Metronomy became a band) and so credit is always, in some degree, due to him. However, on the aforementioned ‘Boy Racers’, Joe left the stage completely, leaving the band, for a solitary few minutes, to crack out what was, for me, the highlight of the night.
Examples akin to this were scattered throughout the night. As the band entered the stage in their kitschy matching burgundy uniforms through a kaleidoscope of pinks, blues, reds and greens, the show began at a crawl with Love Letters cuts ‘Monstrous’ and ‘Month of Sundays’. It wasn’t until that record’s title track and lead single was unleashed, with its piano bashing and shout-a-long backing refrain, that the show took on the purpose of a live show – showcasing the instrumental abilities of the band, transplanting the ideas on record to a concert venue and emitting any charisma that they might have. These peaks and troughs gave the show the feeling of bobbing along on waves. For every spike in energy and excitement, there was a lull that had the crowd chatting over the music (see: ‘Call Me’ into ‘Holiday’ and ‘Radio Ladio’ and ‘I’m Aquarius’ into ‘Reservoir’ and ‘Side 2’). What resulted was the feeling that while the act Metronomy are four albums in, the band Metronomy are still finding their feet and discovering what works.
The ability to get over that problem (not the worst problem to have as an English “indie band” in a sea of English “indie bands”) isn’t helped, in an odd way, by the changing face of Metronomy’s sound. It’s odd because actually this is Joe’s strength – not only his ability but also his will to hop from genre to genre and keeping the sound fresh. He’s gone from being an explicitly electronic act to skirting the rim of 60s psychedelia and old fashioned 50s rock with a hint of 70s disco topped off with a flourish of RnB rhythms. In the live setting, this hampers them – the more noticeably electronically backboned songs contrast ineffectively with the camp pink lights and colour coordination that is the theme of Love Letters.
In a tweet recently, Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie bemoaned the fact that music critics tell musicians how they should “fix” their albums and music despite not being musicians themselves. I agreed to an extent but also questioned whether it was right that he should say that if you have no technical knowledge of a subject that should mean you have no opinion on it. Well, I’m going to tell Metronomy not to fix their trend of changing up their sound. While I may be unmoved by their music, it is ultimately their greatest strength, whether it disadvantages their live shows or not. All they need really is for Joe to be a little less Metronomy and a little more Mount.