I like Metric, and I like Emily Haines. I loved 2003's "Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?" and I thought "Static Anonymity" was solid. I like her work with Broken Social Scene, and I think Haines is a dynamic, exciting performer. I respect the hell out of her for being a woman musician in the '90's when "the more like a guy you were, the more of a musician you were," in her own words.
But that doesn't mean I thought "Live It Out" was a masterpiece.
This album was very much an experiment and an attempt to pull in more of Metric's influences. Musically, the band exhibits a broader range than on past albums. On "Live It Out," they pay homage to the glory days of grunge and fuzzy guitars, and they do it very well.
The ear-splitting squeals and veritable wall of growly guitar noise on "Empty" call to mind Nirvana's "Radio Friendly Unit Shifter," but updates it with a dance beat (and in the process gives the album's opening track some much-needed buoyancy). The raucous "Handshakes" weds fuzzy guitars with the energy and vibrancy of the band's earlier work. "The Police And The Public," a soft song with burbling keyboards, is the grandest experiment and most beautiful song on the record.
Unfortunately, there are some gaping musical potholes on "Live It Out," as well. "Glass Ceiling" incorporates Sonic Youth style distorted guitars in the most monotonous way possible. The spoken French track on "Poster of a Girl" is just bad, bad, bad and fails to add anything to the song. Similarly over-the-top, the bizarre chant at the start of "Monster Hospital" should have been left at the pep rally it came from.
Interestingly enough, the weakest songs on the album are the ones that could have fit sonically into Haines' and Metric's earlier work. "Too Little Too Late" is a song that borrows heavily from Haines' other band, Broken Social Scene. While not a bad song, its sleepy instrumentals and lackluster vocals allow it to slip by under the radar. "Poster Of A Girl" suffers a similar fate: it revisits "Old World," but never quite captures the energy that made that album so special.
On "Live It Out," Haines frequently walks a thin line between being a fresh, honest vocalist and being a fully-grown 15-year-old. The first line we hear on "Empty" is "When there's no way out/the only way out is to give in." I am immediately torn in two.
I was struck by how cliche that was. On the other hand, it kind of works: there isn't anything wrong with wallowing in your own vices every now and then.
Most of the time, Haines' lyrics work very well. On tracks such as "Handshakes," the lyrics leave little room for misinterpretation ("Buy this car to drive to work/Drive to work to pay for this car"). Such straightforwardness might irk some listeners. Being blunt without sounding dumbed-down or arrogant is tricky, and she does it well, coming off as an honest observer.
Haines has also grown into her role as Metric's front woman on "Live It Out." On "Monster Hospital," her vocals have a more subdued Karen O. ring to them. The parallel is identifiable, but Haines exercises restraint, and doesn't fall into the vocal excesses of her colleague. On other tracks, such as the title track and "Glass Ceiling," Haines' vocals come from the same place they always have, and are as entrancing as ever.
Weak start, strong end. "Live It Out" finishes off the album by uniting old Metric with loud guitars and a simple declaration: it's good to live.
For all the boring beats and experimental missteps, "Live It Out" gives the listener a chance to hear what Metric was aiming to accomplish on this record.