Metronomy have always walked a fine line between arch and sincerity. Their early work was built around deliberately tacky, 80’s throwback sounds, but between the emotional vocals of Joseph Mount, and the occasional sombre chord, the band managed to inject some feeling into what could easily have been an adventure in cheap nostalgia (Heartbreaker is the obvious standout track of their early work). The English Riviera solidified their place as a genuine pop band, melding relaxed grooves with the melancholy pop hooks of Hot Chip. Love Letters felt like something of a curveball, exploring sonic minimalism, and psychedelia as a platform for discussing heartbreak, and whilst it was an undeniably clumsy, messy record, it was affecting nonetheless. The group has always excelled when they allowed some feeling into their songs, but unfortunately Summer ’08 (the first Metronomy album recorded entirely by Mount since their debut) backs away from it.
The very spelling of lead single Old Skool is somewhat indicative of the style Mount is going for with this album. It’s evidently supposed to sound like a throwback to the band’s early work (with a lot of the aforementioned Hot Chip thrown in), with its pulsating synths, and metronomic beats, but it lacks the home-brew appeal of its inspirations. The sounds are too sharp, and the synths too glittery for any real melody to emerge. Mount tries out a new vocal style too, a pinched falsetto, evidently supposed to evoke the androgynous vocals so popular in the 80’s, but in Old Skool he just sounds strained.
Night Owl is stronger, with its sombre organ chords setting it apart from the distinctly digital album. The angular guitars interlock effortlessly with the bass, and it draws into view just how much the rest of the album feels like its trying too hard. Mount sings in his usual register, and sounds relaxed and natural. The guitars feel comfortably playful, in contrast to the overtly ironic synths. Hang Me Out To Dry also works fairly well, largely due to the perfection that is Robyn. Her vocal style of short, punchy syllables suits the rolling synths that form the song’s beat, and she sounds very much in her element.
There are a few strong tracks on Summer ’08, but for the most part it feels quite like Mount’s love for 80’s nostalgia has been allowed to run amok, without the bandmates who would have previously reigned him in. Metronomy excel at wistful tunes, that couch their nostalgic sounds in a genuine longing for a past time, but Summer ’08 just sounds dated and confused.