Best albums of 2011, No 7: Metronomy – The English Riviera

In returning to his roots, Joe Mount pursued a more pastoral direction for Metronomy's third album – and found his voice

Early in their career, most standup comedians go through a process known as "finding their voice". Having got into performing to deliver scabrous political satire to an eager audience, the comic soon finds a) the audience isn't as eager for it as they'd hoped and b) they're not actually as good at delivering gags about the Welfare Reform Bill as they'd anticipated. The persona is scrapped, the performer returns to the drawing board and then, six months later, they step back on to the stage to deliver warm character comedy set in a dole office. All of a sudden, everything comes together.

"Finding your voice" doesn't tend to happen as much in popular music. Far more common is the contrasting (and recently chronicled) phenomena where an act emerges on to their debut record fully formed, in their best possible incarnation, never to repeat such an achievement again. In 2011, however, Joe Mount took the road less travelled and for his third album as Metronomy cast off in a direction that not only garnered praise and attention in equal measure but seemed to entirely suit his group.

The English Riviera is an album about returning and starting again. The Look, lead single and first breakout hit for the band, begins with the lines "You're up and you'll get down/ You're never running from this town", a warning apparently straight from the school of small-town heartbreak. But it ends on a different note: "This town is the oldest friend of mine." Maybe escaping home isn't the point. It's about returning home, returning to a lover perhaps, and seeing things afresh.

Mount left his hometown of Torbay in Devon several years ago to pursue a career in London. What followed was two albums of garish electro-pop, delivered in monotone for Hoxton kids who thought they dug irony. This album saw him turn his back on that, and as Mount explained in his interview with the Guide this spring, The English Riviera is a collection made "for the people I grew up with". As such it taps into a different musical attitude. "It's very laidback," said Mount, "there are kids who've got so much time they can spend hours in a recording studio and make this sun-kissed, seaside music."

The relaxed air is the abiding characteristic of the album. The tempo of The English Riviera is slow, the tone gentle. Languorous bass grooves outnumber synth lines and when they do appear, the squawking sounds of previous recordings are replaced by more pastoral tones, like those of a church organ. Even the trademark monotone is edged out in favour of actual singing. Maybe it's a coincidence, but from this new musical palette great melodies and compositions emerge.

The English Riviera is a homecoming, one that's relaxed and at ease with itself. Whether as a result of being true to himself or not, Mount has found his voice. This is an assured, beguiling album that would make an ideal accompaniment to an afternoon of sandcastles, jam sandwiches and botanical gin.


Paul MacInnes

The GuardianTramp

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