Review first published April 10th 2011.
Just under a year ago, Everything Everything released Man Alive, one of 2010’s most original but opinion splitting works. For some its muso time signatures and lyrical complexity seemed designed to isolate the listener, for others the polyglot creative twitchiness was a sign of genius.
Either way, one thing was pretty clear; even in these days of a borderless, culture cloned planet, with its nods to post-punk, diffident pop, Roxy, Bowie and XTC to name just a few, Man Alive could only have been conceived in Britain. Despite the multicultural smorgasbord that this island nation has become, it was was a celebration of a thousand slivers of British-ness, both ancient and modern with a distinct lineage that could be traced down from the musical auteurs of the 20th century.
The English Riviera is another such retro-future postcard. Metronomy front man Joe Mount was born in Totnes, a small West Country town in which its possible according to the wikipedia entry that “One can live a bohemian lifestyle”. Its other famous sons include Jimmy Cauty, its former residents Charles Babbage.
Mount now splits his time between London and Paris, but for the band’s third album he’s unashamedly chosen to thematically mine this cradle of his adolescence. To clarify, the Riviera in question is a contrivance of the Devon tourist board, referring to the palm lined streets of nearby Torbay, a haven for the genteel blue rinse set by day and marauding gangs of lairy hedonists after dark. As fiendishly contrasting backdrops go, its damn near perfect.
After recording the first two Metronomy albums in his bedroom, Mount and the rest of the gang relocated to studios on either side of the channel, to thrilling effect. Whether as a result of the live-ish band set up or the locations, the alteration in mood feeds an ambitious canvas, from the crying seagulls and archaic harmonium of the titular opener to the tweedy boffin techno of closer Love Underlined.
In between Mount sketches portraits of an enervated hamlet, one which he points out on The Bay “Isn’t Paris, Isn’t London, Not Berlin, Not Hong Kong”, whilst during the hallucinatory space disco chorus aliens prepare to lift off from the nearest duck pond. Those looking for points of reference to previous releases will struggle.: one of the biggest evolutionary steps is the addition of Gbenga Adelekan’s bass, its sinew recalling Japan’s Mick Karn, especially on the elegantly Japan-esque intro to She Wants.
Another is the presence of Veronica Falls singer Roxanne Clifford, collaborating firstly on the wafer thin understatement of Everything Goes My Way, but then squashing melodies flat to spectacular effect on the twisted new romanticism of Corinne. If all of this sounds like it was made by rewired Cabbage Patch dolls long forgotten and lying buried in sand beneath the esplanade, The English Riviera’s best moments are to be had inside The Gaumont, its glassy eyed punters pirouetting drunkenly around a pile of second hand bingo cards. Here the bygone organ which haunts The Look just needs a spectral voice to call two fat ladies in the background, as on the dancefloor Darby and Joan frug to Mount’s attempt at being either Hall or Oates.
In a 2011 mired in complete, over enthusiastically received mediocrity it’s a sublime, cortex-screwing nuance which confirms that Metronomy have managed to splice the beigeness of Reggie Perrin’s England with Avant Garde pop using the skill of a thousand Magnus Pykes. Of course, the idea of making “British” records is ridiculous in the twenty-first century. But in its fourty seven minutes The English Riviera takes all our baggage and recycles it into oddity, tension and intrigue packed in bite size parcels, just the right dimensions for our former colonial minds to appreciate. It’s a last resort you’ll never want to leave.