Tuesday, August 21, 2012

1980's Brit-Synthpop Reborn As American Horny American Teen Pop: Metro Station By Metro Station

The Good: Catchy tunes, Moments of fun
The Bad: Very repetitive, Short! Some truly inane lyrics
The Basics: Metro Station breaks the band Metro Station into the mainstream with a bland, if fun, and repetitive album designed to get listeners to dance instead of think.

In the last few months, I've hung around a few people quite a bit younger than myself and tried to figure out what the hell it is they are listening to and why. It's not exactly the quest for the Holy Grail, but it's the one I've been on. As a result, I have encountered some new-to-me artists that I have been quite excited by. I find myself thinking of Imogen Heap's Speak For Yourself (reviewed here!) and having attended a Paramore concert, I enjoyed it enough to get over how they spell their name (yes, I am aware that it is derived from a surname now!). But, I also found that I could not get very excited by Tool (10,000 Days was reviewed here!) and Blaqk Audio's Cex Cells (reviewed here!) has not lured me back for anything more.

Despite the mixed bag of music I've been listening to from younger people lately, I decided to give Metro Station a chance. Played for me on the way to and from the Paramore concert, Metro Station is the debut album of the band Metro Station, a Hollywood-based synth-pop band. The album reminded me most closely of Fire by Electric Six (reviewed here!). The sound is very much synthesizer and drum-driven pop music. For those who might only have passing familiarity with the group, their current single, "Shake It" is what is making them known on the charts.

With ten tracks, clocking in at just over thirty minutes, Metro Station is a modest debut showcasing the writing, vocal and instrumental talents of the quartet of young men that makes up Metro Station. The album is short, which is not a good thing considering how repetitive many of the songs are. As a result, if one plays the album two or three times, they pretty much have the whole thing ingrained in their conscious mind. As one who has listened to the album twelve times now, I have to say that the infectious pop melodies - which remind me very much of the songs from my childhood in the early '80s - go through a very cyclical transition from interesting and enjoyable to familiar and some what bland to utterly insipid and repetitive. Put the album up for about three days and relisten to it and it's all right again.

The problem - outside the duration - starts with the sound. Several of the songs sound alike. In terms of format, "Seventeen Forever," "Wish We Were Older," and (to a lesser extent) "Shake It" all sound alike. They begin with intros heavy on the bass, establish a theme and often highlight a key line in reverb before the first stanza. "Control" and "Shake It" sound like the whole purpose is to get a gym full of teen-agers sweaty and moving. It's all about a simple synth melody repeated hypnotically over and over and over again.

As a result, it is hard to find a lot of musical substance in Metro Station. Sure, it sounds good, much the way cotton candy tastes good. If you try to make something out of it, it disappears. That's pretty much what happens with "Metro Station;" it's feel-good, move-your-body music.

The senselessness is accented by even a simple analysis of the lyrics. Metro Station thumbs their nose at sensibility first by throwing in words they created to fill beats. On "Disco" we have the "ooaah" and "ya-ya"s and "woe-we-oh-we-oh" on "Wish We Were Older." On "Kelsey," they throw out an extended "Woa-oah" to make the refrain work. And that's fun and interesting, but there are moments that it just feels like filler. Sure, I can see the band calling it out and the loyal teen fans yelling back "ya-ya," but for a serious audiophile, it just seems silly.

Metro Station's lyrics are often simple and repetitive as well. Take, for example, the album's superlative track - it's almost a surprise it didn't chart and make them huge months ago, as it was their first single - "Kelsey." "Kelsey" contains some of the most simple and obvious rhymes, like, "So take one word, you said / You put it in your bed / You rest your tiny head on your pillow" before degenerating into multiple repetitions of the very cool line "I'll swim the ocean for you / The ocean for you . . ." Yes, the song rhymes "you" with "you" multiple times, but it's still a fun song and it works. Go figure.

But worse than that, the album is thematically confused. They seem perfectly willing and eager to get down on "Wish We Were Older," yet define their sexual interest as a mistake on "Seventeen Forever." The thing is, what makes Metro Station at all interesting is the sophistication of the simplicity of the lyrics in regards to sexuality. The group manages to play the implicit as far as they can, despite some throw out lines like "I know you're dying to take off your clothes" ("Wish We Were Older"). Still, in that same song, they have lines like "As I'm moving and I'm pushing / You manage to say / . . . I wish we were older" ("Wish We Were Older"). And in "Shake It," there is something beautiful about the simplicity of "If she moves like this / Will you move it like that?"

The thing is, Metro Station takes an utterly ambivalent view on teenage sexuality. They sing, "You were young, and so am I / This is wrong, but who am I to judge? / I feel like heaven when we touch / I guess, for me this is enough / We're one mistake for being together / Let's not ask why it's not right / You won't be seventeen forever / And we can get away with this tonight" ("Seventeen Forever"). So, they get that there are issues with young love - or, hell, who am I kidding, teenage sexuality - but they seem all right with going ahead with it anyway. I'm fine with that, but it does seem like it might be an issue for some listeners and parents who are vetting the album for their teens should probably be aware of that. That said, I think that might have been the most profoundly uncool thing I have ever written.

And I'll admit, I can't figure out if "Control" is just a long series of drug references or one of the most profound implicit evocations of teenage sexuality with its lines "I'm coming down, bring me up / Take it off, let's just touch." I'm going for the whole sexuality aspect, largely because there's a whole partnership aspect to the lines "But if you let go, I'll let go tonight" ("Control"). But that's the thing, it's hard to take it seriously - even when it has the potential to be musically erotic - because of the sound of the music.

The vocals are insistent and smooth, articulate but not distinctive. The young men of Metro Station have mid-range vocals which could have come from any of the garage-bands-turned-pop-sensations from the last few years. They are reminiscent of the vocals from Lifehouse or The Fray. Unfortunately, the vocals are also drastically overproduced, giving the listener a difficult time of trying to evaluate any actual innate talent the group might have.

But the instrumentals are a different style and the young men of Metro Station seem to be perfectly happy to bleed the electric-pop genre to create dance music that has little overall substance. "Shake It" is evocative of the group's sole desire and it represents well the sound and feel of much of Metro Station. Does the band have a future? Probably. Should it? Only if they grow past this one-trick pony.

The best track is "Kelsey," the weakest link is the very repetitive and disappointingly misogynistic "Tell Me What To Do."

For other rock reviews, check out my takes on:
Approaching Normal - Blue October
Don’t Believe The Truth - Oasis
Playing The Angel - Depeche Mode


For other music reviews, please visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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