If you were hoping for a return to the wonky electronica which dominated Metronomy's debut album Pip Paine (Pay Me The £5000 You Owe), I'm afraid you'll have to give up on the possibility: Joe Mount has moved on. The English Riviera is slicker and smoother than Pip Paine, and indeed its follow-up Nights Out: it's a confidently executed indie-pop album dominated by conventional, streamlined music. It's a record which achieves precisely what it sets out to achieve with precision and, occasionally, some degree of swagger. Despite this, and in some ways because of it, it's also a rather hollow record.
Metronomy are now, technically, a four piece band, with new members Anna Prior (drums) and Gbenga Adelekan (bass) joining old-timer Oscar Cash (keys/sax) and Mount himself (everything else). Ultimately, though, they remain Mount's musical vehicle: he composed and produced the whole of English Riviera. As a result, the album has a unified aesthetic: a restrained sound built from casually funky bass and drums,
strange and often deliberately cheap-sounding synths, and lilting vocals. Very occasionally, he'll dabble with something vaguely energetic or confrontational: 'We Broke Free', for instance, unexpectedly concludes with a brief burst of snarling guitar. For the most part though, the vibe is strictly horizontal: it's an album which sounds worried about letting loose in case it gets its pristine shirt crumpled, an album which lingers at the edge of the dancefloor with a studied casualness rather than deigning to enjoy itself. It's a little too uptight, in other words: too precise and too deliberate to deliver the knock-out indie-pop song Mount seems to be aiming for. The best pop albums don't stand on ceremony to this extent.
Still, let's not denigrate Mount's achievements too much: he's clearly capable of writing extremely polished music, and tracks like 'The Look', an accomplished stab at eighties pop, and 'Everything Goes My Way', featuring a very pretty vocal by Prior, have many things going for them. The record also ends on a high, with the assured weird-fest 'Love Underlined'. 'Jill Scott's a friend of mine', claims Mount, apropos of nothing, as the drums rattle, the bass shakes and electronic noise dance around erratically. The trouble is that, good though 'Love Underlined' is, it only serves to emphasise the relative conservatism that went before it. As it fades out, you're left wishing that Mount had either returned to his less conventional roots or embraced a more spontaneous, lively pop sound: right now, his confidently executed but largely unmemorable indie pop falls between two stools, and hurts itself badly in the process.