Metric is a band that has yet to make a misstep in their 17 year career, and they have become known as founders of the Canadian indie-rock scene. Their latest album Pagans in Vegas, the band’s sixth overall and first in over three years, attempts to follow this trend. Frontwoman Emily Haines evokes comparisons to Debbie Harry of Blondie: Blonde and bored, backed by a gang of indistinguishable white guys, emoting aggression and listlessness with an interesting, rather girlish voice. After all these years, Haines has even been granted some of the do-no-wrong idolatry bestowed on the aforementioned Harry. A tone of confidence is present throughout Pagans in Vegas and sonically the album is more electronic than ever. In “Letter to You,” an open letter to fans published on Metric’s official site, Haines discusses the album as homage to the great British new wave artists of the ’80s like Depeche Mode. She conveys the band’s desire to participate in the “next wave of electronic music.”
Pagans’ 8-bit production certainly evokes an exaggerated Jetsons-style future sound. Lead single, “The Shade,” opens with a riff appealingly identical to a Pac-Man game. “Cascades” takes this one step further, distorting Haines’ voice into a robotic recitation of the advice, “just keep going strong.” Lyrically, Haines’ vague, self-righteous critiques often come across as irrelevant. “Holding off your freedom of speech / Rage against the dying of the light,” she sings, after making a comment about how an indistinguishable “you” lobotomized and commodified her, which could be compelling if it didn’t sound so contrived. At other times, however, her lyrics get an emotive burst. On “Fortunes” she sings, “she cracked right on the dance floor/ but I won’t.” Haines promises in a forlorn attempt to get the listener to “stay / to soften the blow.” Unfortunately, these moments don’t last long.
Overall, Pagans in Vegas reveals that Metric’s status as a ‘modern classic’ is at odds with its desire to stay provocative and relevant. In “Letter to You” Haines described the album as “a gift, a burden, a time capsule, an escape, an alarm, a question, and a call with no answer, leave a message at the tone,” but even that leaves some serious questions: Mostly the glaringly obvious, ‘what does that even mean?’ After listening to Pagans In Vegas, it’s hard to know for sure if she even knows herself.