Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? is the debut album of Canadian indie rock band Metric, released 2003 on Last Gang Records. Metric was formed by vocalist/keyboardist Emily Haines and guitarist James Shaw in 1998, who proceeded through a number of failed record deals and false starts before eventually succeding with this album.
Metric's first record deal was signed in 2000 with Britain's Chrysalis Records; the Stephen Hague-produced effort that ensued pushed the duo towards a greater commercialism than they wanted and they eventually took their work and returned to North America. This work, which would acquire the title Grow Up And Blow Away, was shopped to US record labels and Metric was signed to the well-known indie label Restless Records. The album was completed, but Restless fumbled around and eventually just sat on it, even as a clip from the album's title track was featured in a Polaroid commercial.
Metric would eventually abandon the album; the songs have all escaped onto P2P networks and are fairly easily available, showing exactly why. In short, the album is pretty much outright bad. Outside of a few standout tracks (the title track, "Soft Rock Star", and "Torture Me"), the entire album is either overworked or conventional, if not both.
After the failure of the Restless deal, Haines and Shaw joined up with drummer Joules Scott-Key and bassist Josh Winstead and returned to Canada. The quartet soon tapped into a tense, tight groove which runs straight through the ensuing album, verbosely entitled Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?. The album spawned several singles, including the moderate radio hit "Combat Baby", and the club anthem "Dead Disco".
- I.O.U. (4:22)
"Wound up in a movie with no story"
The album begins with this fast song, which quickly oscillates through a variety of moods, from the initial insistent, punky guitar riff to a more laid-back bass-driven section and back. Rapid-fire chord changes underly the more ethereal vocals and piano arpeggios the torchier vocals. Despite running from corner to corner at full tilt, the song holds together and provides a welcome sampler of the rest of the album.
- Hustle Rose (5:33)
"Now that your wallet is all lit up, you're gonna wanna wear it out"
A weaker song than the opener, its first section, detailing the actions of a cynical seductress (or prostitute), is perhaps the blandest part of the album. Later, weighty combined piano, guitar, and bass chords lead into a musical awakening, fueled by decisive drumming and a funky bassline. Buzzy synths cover the vocals until blown away by growling guitar riffs. Eventually the vocals exit and in the most dynamic, climactic section of the piece are replaced by a synth riff, bridging solidly into the next song.
- Succexy (3:05)
"Let's drink to the military... the glass is empty"
Extremely critical of the then-ongoing Iraq War, this song's lyrics describe a television-drugged populace finding war as just another channel on the dial; true 'reality TV'. Unlike many such songs, this one is cheekily humourous and eminently danceable, built around Emily Haines's deadpan, wordy vocals.
- Combat Baby (3:29)
"No one here wants to fight me like you do"
Perhaps the shining star of this album, and a shoo in for the debut single. Tense and offbeat, the chorus is built off jerky guitars and syncopated drumming, while the verses relax a bit more and groove a little. The lyrics describe a tumultuous though enjoyable relationship. The instrumental break doesn't let up and pushes upward into the bridge, breaking up itself before returning to the chorus. Creative and infectious.
- Calculation Theme (3:31)
"Tonight your ghost will ask my ghost, where is the love?
The first slower song on the album, backed by a meandering synth, features the warmest-sounding vocals on the album. Impassively describing the (post-?)modern alienation from a simpler life, the lyrics eventually settle down into a relaxed, worthwhile love song.
- Wet Blanket (4:07)
"Clenched fist saying it's wrong, to want more than a folk song"
Tension returns here, with the rhythmically alluring vocals describing the narrator's romantic bad judgement. The chorus is perhaps the most polarizing sequence of the album, with higher "do do do" vocals alternating with tense, wordy lower vocals. The bridge is maybe a bit overstretched, as it proceeds by very small and identical steps to a climax and a false ending, followed after a chorus by the true ending.
- On A Slow Night (4:36)
"Tell me, what did that salesman do to you?"
Slow as its title suggests, the tone of the opening successfully gives the feeling of being up far later than you should be, in its woozy intimacy. The lyrics tease a shallow fashion-chaser, and combine to convey strong distaste and disappointment on the part of the narrator. The music gets noisier as the song proceeds, until a rising synth line cuts through like sunrise following an all-nighter, first subtle then spectacular.
- The List (2:52)
"Do lawyers have lawyers? Do landlords have landlords?"
The album comes in for a landing here, in the first part of a dynamic one-two punch. At first sounding aimlessly busy, the song quickly breaks into a surging, focussed rock song. The lyrics ridicule shallow celebrity-chasing and the fickle nature of the star system, while the music accelerates headlong to a triumphal synth-led instrumental closing.
- Dead Disco (3:25)
"Dead disco, dead funk, dead rock and roll, remodeled"
Distorted chiming synths join with jumpy bass here, before breaking into the rampaging chorus and not letting up. The highlight here is the skittering backbeat moving back and forth through the rest of the song. This time, the lyrics are critical of the lack of originality in music today as well as the obsession with 'retro' cool. In the final minute, the music breaks out into cascades of synthesizer which abruptly crash down at the end.
- Love is a Place (2:09)
"Where do you live? Love is a place."
This reflective coda opposes big, echoed, choppy guitar chords with melodic vocals, defusing both the tension and the depth of criticism from the rest of the album. The guitar forms a big, empty soundscape which is softly filled with the compassionate lyrics.
I was first exposed to Metric at the insistence of my office-mates. "You haven't heard Metric yet? We have to play it for you." Listening through the album the first time didn't make much of an obvious impression, though I recognized "Combat Baby" from the radio (and remembered liking it). However, over the next week or so I realized that the tunes were still running through my head, even though I paid it relatively little attention, having work to do. So I did what virtually any savvy Internet user would do at this point; I downloaded a few tracks off Gnutella. Soon afterwards, I purchased the album, having determined that it was well worth the money.
This writeup is copyright 2005 D.G. Roberge and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial licence. Details can be found at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd-nc/2.5/ .