Saturday, March 12, 2011

Metric and the Three-Minute Pop Song

Despite all this recent tomfoolery with electronica and math rock, I do have a great love for power pop.  When it is done well, There is a craft to this genre that might be more difficult to navigate effectively than the twenty minute prog-rock opus. The roots of the three minute pop song reach back to vaudeville and wax cylinders, and because this history is so long, the standards for balancing the clever with the cliché in this genre are impossibly high.

Yet people will find a way.  I don’t want to turn this post into a “history of the pop song,” nor do I want to make it about Weezer.  I do, however, want to point out this great example of power pop efficiency.

I miss Matt Sharp (on bass and spaz).  Weezer would be a different band today if he would have stuck around.   But this isn’t about Weezer - maybe some other time.

This post is inspired by the Canadian-based band Metric.  I discovered them in the oddest way: in the 90s, I practiced aikido at UNT with Josh Winstead.  He played in a prog-pop-world-fusion group called 53 Large Men whose album “Period of Senselessness” is still a favorite.  As I doing a curious “where are they now” search, I found out that he was playing bass with Metric, and that apparently, they are doing pretty well, especially overseas.  I put “Fantasies” on the list and waited for the time when I needed to get out of an experimental music rut.  Like recently.

Since the beginning of this month, I’ve been spinning Metric’s “Fantasies” in the player, and I have experienced my usual resistance.  However, the song “Gimme Sympathy” immediately stood out.  It’s a great example of the three minute tune.  It’s super-singable, lyrically accessible, and overall well-constructed.  Although the “official video” is pretty clever, I was excited to find out that Metric is a pretty compelling live act.

That synth part that singer Emily Haynes is playing could easily have been set on sequence.  She’s not only playing the part, she’s also manipulating the synth’s settings manually as she goes.  Inspiring.

In its entirety, “Fantasies” has more musical hooks than a tackle box, and although it’s sometimes lyrically obtuse, there are many memorable lines on the album.  I do, however, think that In some cases, my initial resistance is justified due to the construction and arrangement of a few songs.  For example, I constantly find the various parts of this album opener floating around in my head (especially the “hard to be soft, tough to be tender” line).

Help, I’m Alive” perfectly singable, has lyric twists aplenty, and has cool atmospheric hooks (nice synth-bass, Josh) snuggled up right alongside a strummy Who-esqe stadium rock bridge.  All of the parts are there, but the way that these parts are arranged sets me ill at ease. For example, I can appreciate wanting to emphasize the hook, but by the song’s end, I feel a little beaten down by the metaphoric hammer.  Repeating this line so often, especially twice in a row, seems to reduce its effectiveness.  Also, the aforementioned bridge comes in a perfect place (at 1:33), but it might have more impact if it were not repeated again later in the song.  As a listener, I feel pretty satisfied at the three minute mark (2:55 on this version).  Going back to the bridge feels a little redundant.

I am apprehensive about being critical.  I’m certainly not making any albums right now, so I can’t say that I can do any better.  I do find it interesting, however, that a well-established musical structure can provide such an effective venue for expression, and that deviating from it causes such weird and immediate reactions in my perception of the song.  

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