Album Review: Metronomy – ‘The English Riviera’ (Because)

A fearless progression to make you think again as Joe Mount reimagines both his childhood haunts and his band

Idiots fear progress. Idiots fear change. Joe Mount, you’ll be glad to know, is not an idiot. Joe Mount has progressed, Joe Mount has changed, and with this, his third full-length album, Joe Mount has transformed his [a]Metronomy[/a] project from a jaunty, brilliant, yet ultimately niche electro outfit into one of the most expansive and visionary pop bands in the country. How has he done it? Subtly, is the answer. In fact, ‘The English Riviera’ is an exercise in restraint. Basslines smother rather than stab, vocals feel dreamlike and demure rather than self-conscious, while the ebullient dancefloor bounce that characterised 2008 breakthrough record ‘Nights Out’ is reined in, controlled, and ultimately made more effective for it.

In concept though, ‘The English Riviera’ is a deep sea of ideas and imagination: a far-flung, limitless dreamworld full of romance, nostalgia, lovers’ tiffs and good old-fashioned shagging. It’s a world where the dreary, potato-headed charm of Mount’s childhood home of Devon is reimagined as a glamorous lullaby sung in the bedrooms and bars of Monte Carlo and Cannes. This being Joe Mount, the new world still rattles and creaks with the quirks and inherent Englishness of his native Totnes, but let’s face it, when you’ve been rocking the same patchy ginger beard and schoolboy curls since your first record dropped in 2006, life’s never going to be a Stella advert.

Everything about this album boils down to escape. From recording in a studio for the first time (‘Pip Paine (Pay The £5000 You Owe)’ and ‘Nights Out’ were both recorded in Mount’s bedroom, with only a soundcard upgrade to separate them) to Mount’s move to Paris (he splits his time between France and London) – it all adds up to a man on the move, and from the first squawks of seagulls that introduce the 37-second-long title track, you know that the intention is to sweep you off on the journey with him.

It’s a hard offer to refuse, really, when the first arrival of Mount’s trademark cracked falsetto vocals on ‘We Broke Free’ implore you to “get yourself fixed up, I’ll take you out round town/I swear you’ll never witness anything quite as fine” atop a sleazy cruise of distorted guitars and cat-strangle synths that tees up ‘Everything Goes My Way’, the first great track on the record. This duet with Veronica Falls singer Roxanne Clifford shines with the subtlety and confidence Mount has brought to the album, along with the new and (sorry, Gabriel Stebbing) improved [a]Metronomy[/a] line-up, mainstay Oscar Cash augmented by new arrivals Gbenga Adelekan and Anna Prior.

Elsewhere, ‘The Look’ saunters in like the nonchalant anthem of the summer, casting cocky glances at the girls as it goes by (“Because you read it in a big book, and now you’re giving me the look, look”), while ‘The Bay’, the most ‘Nights Out’ moment on the record, rattles along in a sequence of squelches and stabs, with Mount still searching for an escape route (“But I’d sooner get out/Remember where we went last year?”). Think you’ve got a handle on the record? Think again, as ‘Love Underlined’ drops a techno bassline circa 2000 on what seems to be a church organ, and you’re back in Blighty, refreshed for the ride.

By the end you’re left thinking that maybe the whole thing has just been a dream, that Mount is in fact still in his bedroom, the fingernails on his right hand painted red, his belt undone, the whiff of French perfume masking the musty aromas of self-gratification. But then you remember: Joe Mount is too clever for that. He wouldn’t get caught short. Simple folk never sense the devil’s presence, not even when his hands are on their throats. Had [a]Metronomy[/a] stuck to the blueprint of ‘Nights Out’, he’d have throttled them dead. But remember, Joe Mount is not simple. And only an idiot would disagree.

Mike Williams