“Back out on the Riviera it go so cold at night”, sings Joseph Mount on opening track The Upsetter. It’s a cheeky reference to Metronomy’s previous, Mercury nominated, album ‘The English Riviera’. Where that album was icy cool, ‘Love Letters’ is a far more soulful record (as you might guess from the kaleidoscopic cover art).
Surprisingly, the album bares comparison with Daft Punk’s ‘Random Access Memories’. Both albums are looking to the past (specifically disco) but recreating it in their own style: where Daft Punk’s work is polished to a sparkling robotic sheen, Metronomy have created an album of low-fi indie Motown disco. That’s quite a mouthful, but however you define their sound, ‘Love Letters’ ultimately sounds like Metronomy. It’s got baroque pop melodies (on Monstrous especially), plenty of chromaticism and unexpected shifts in harmony, all performed on twanging guitars, processed beats, retro synths and Mount’s unmistakeable vocal.
Although The Upsetter sets things off to a slow, downbeat note, the band are at their best when doing moody. I’m Aquarius is a major highlight, with its slinky melodies, murky organ and cooing “shoop-doop-doop-aah’s” that somehow sound sexy and menacing all at once. At the album’s centre, meanwhile, is Boy Racers – an instrumental and predominantly electronic track that sounds like the band taking on Kraftwerk with its bubbling bass and odd sound effects. That bubbling bass segues into the gradually blossoming Call Me and, later, the pulsating Reservoir.
Love Letters is at the thematic heart of the album, though. It’s a thumping track full of soulful harmonies, disco beats, noodling guitars and a psychedelic middle eight, epitomising the band’s disco and Motown influences. It also sounds suitably grainy and authentic (Mount even used vintage drums machines and synths), the musical equivalent of a sepia-tinged filter.
Too often, though, ‘Love Letters’ simply meanders. Beats feel sluggish and thrilling hooks are scarce: The Most Immaculate Haircut might be a sweet love song but it moves at the speed of hair growth, whilst Month of Sundays is missing the heart and soul of Love Letters that precedes it. Whilst the title track comes close, what’s really lacking is a big glossy hit, something the band threatened to write with The Bay on ‘The English Riviera’.
Never Wanted eventually ends the album on a sombre note rather than a high, which somewhat sums up the album. Where the band could’ve been bolder and taken more risks, they’ve chosen to be restrained. ‘Love Letters’ is an interesting, retro antithesis to their previous work, but it’s not quite their best.
* I’m Aquarius
* Love Letters
* Boy Racers
Listen: ‘Love Letters’ is released on the 10th March.