This is the fifth full length album from the eclectic Canadian electro/indie four piece outfit. It’s a more introspective work than previous releases, dealing with what you see when you look in the mirror. In fact, all the lyrics on the cd release are printed backwards! Don’t worry though, included is a reflective piece of foil so you can read them the right way around!
The album has been very successful commercially and peaked at twelve on the US Billboard album charts. It was produced and composed entirely by the band themselves.
Kicking off with “Artificial Nocturne”, the first lyrics you hear from slinky vocalist Emily Haines are “I’m just as fucked up as they say”, a clear indication of the personal introspection to come. This opening track is quite spooky and a general feeling of unease is generated. The very popular single “Youth Without Youth” follows suit, albeit being rather more up-tempo. This is a delicious track and contains everything a great pop song should. Hooks, melody, attitude and style. The main hook is a single chord change that tantalizingly leaves you hanging in greyness before crashing into sparkling colour. It may be a simple E minor to A major change but it is the centrepiece of the song and works marvellously. Throughout the track there is a disquieting synth line that keeps you feeling slightly uneasy. In fact much of the album has a rather bleak feel to it, a bit like a more up-tempo Portishead with a splash of ’80s new wave thrown in for good measure.
Unfortunately “Youth Without Youth” is the high water mark of the album and the rest of the songs don’t stack up anywhere near as well (with the exception of the aforementioned “Artificial Nocturne” and “Speed the Collapse” which is track three, so in a nutshell, the best three songs are the first three!). This record gets a little lost as it meanders along the electro pop road. Sure there are some nice melodies and tasty production/synth work but the hooks of the aforementioned tracks just fall away leaving us with a collection of songs that sound like bland leftovers of the pop banquet that was the first three tracks. Emily Haines has an endearing voice however, and the record is certainly not a dud, it’s eminently listenable and fans of Air, Goldfrapp and Portishead will certainly enjoy most of it. The only real lowlight is the cameo appearance of Lou Reed on “The Wanderlust”. Is he on some kind of secret mission to ruin everyone’s musical careers? Anyway don’t get me started….
The production is excellent. Crystal clear and shiny, just as pop should be, and the title track especially has some great vocal harmonies and pulsating electronic sounds. Like most of the songs on offer though, it just doesn’t hit any real creative highs and ends up petering out, causing you feeling slightly empty. This in fact, encapsulates the disc as a whole. It starts out brilliantly then outstays its welcome, leaving you emotionally short-changed.
As I mentioned, it’s not “bad” per se, and I think the band have the potential to make a truly great record, but Synthetica is not it.