Love Letters review – Metronomy add 60s songwriting to their 80s synths


The difficulty of sustaining long-distance relationships isn't a hardship exclusive to touring musicians. But the workers in song know all about divided loyalties, about following one's muse to play to half-empty hockey stadiums in North America (as Metronomy did with Coldplay in 2012) while leaving an inspiration of flesh and bone behind; about affection foundering on the time zone differential. Love Letters is one of those records – born, paradoxically, of a musician's wildest dreams – one that takes the enforced distances of musical success and uses them as a backdrop for all sorts of misadventures of the heart.

"Tube of toothpaste/ Facial cleanser/ Bar of soap and moisturiser," runs the contents of one soap bag, but this is no road record, full of grousing hotel blues – it's about longing, and ill communications. Call Me, implores one song, weighing up a relationship with analogue burbles. The whole album opens with an urgent plea: "I've gotta beam my message to ya/Straight from the satellite/Cos, girl, we're meant to be together/And back out there on the Riviera/It gets so cold at night".

Nobody writes actual love letters any more, Joseph Mount realises; it's just another retro fetish for the Devon auteur to romanticise. Metronomy's last album, 2011's Mercury-nominated The English Riviera, brought together the widescreen glamour of slick international pop with the bittersweet Heath-Robinson charms of the first wave of British synth-pop, circa 1981 – Buggles or Depeche Mode. Love Letters still has a thing for boxy little drum machines, kiddy keyboards and plangent one-finger solos. But now Mount has combined these with a fresh fixation: the 60s. Love Letters's terrific title track is pure Motown – it comes crashing in euphorically on the chorus, after a jazzy little prelude; it feels as though it has been around for ever. But this is a Motown tune in which baroque synth sounds and a continental trumpet solo can coexist. The song's Michel Gondry video – his first since Björk's Crystalline (2011) – continues the rinky-dink theme.

The album's greatest hit, however, is I'm Aquarius, a slinky masterpiece that owes its "shoop-doop-doop-ah" backing vocals to eras long past. Mount's genius phrasing, by contrast, owes everything to R&B and hip-hop. He's boggling at a break-up ("I'm aware of the procedure/ But normally it's me that leaves her," he offers). It's the fault of the stars, argues the breaker-upper. The reality is probably more earthbound.

These two terrific songs – plus the nagging Reservoir – make good on the promise of The English Riviera: that Mount and his auxiliaries have the skills to turn out great idiosyncratic pop. The bulk of Love Letters, though, backs off from the glittering mainstream superhighway on to a road less travelled. Recorded at the all-analogue Toe Rag Studios (where the White Stripes made Elephant), Love Letters is full of little audio curios. Boy Racers, for one, is a handbrake turn perhaps best understood as a tribute to Daft Punk; Mount now lives in Paris, and a feel for the French electronic scene (Air, too) runs through his work.

The 60s that Mount is really smitten with is the era of psychedelia. Month of Sundays is a love letter to the band Love, while Monstrous is a mystifying cod-medieval romp powered by a drum machine so primitive it might as well be from 1381. Mount worries about a girl vomiting ("Hold your hair back if you feel unwell," he advises); elsewhere, on The Most Immaculate Haircut, Mount's legs are giving way, there are pains shooting down his left side. It all adds to this album's persuasively woozy feeling of lovesickness.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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