After releasing two albums that turned Metric into an arena-filling indie rock band, with a sound designed to reach the very back rows, the band scaled back both their ambitions and approach on their sixth record, 2015's Pagans in Vegas. Kicking off with the clipped and swaggering "Lie Lie Lie," which sounds like a distant cousin of Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus," Emily Haines and the band seem less interested in being epic this time out. The less bombastic arrangements and the attention to details of sound mean the songs don't have the same overblown feeling, which cuts two ways. It's a bit of a letdown to anyone who loved how huge the band sounded on their last two records, but it also allows Metric a chance to experiment a little and try to connect on a more personal level. In fact, the weakest parts of the album occur when the band do try to fill out their sound with giant choruses. While none of the songs are actively bad, they can seem a little forced and almost rote in comparison to those on earlier albums. "The Shade" is the only stadium track that really works, mostly due to the sticky vocal melody in the chorus, but also in part to the oddball synth squiggles that dart around the mix. Much better are the songs that don't try as hard, like the synth pop ballad "Celebrate," which blends peppy neo-disco verses with a blown-out, half-time chorus, or the songs like "Other Side" that aim for a kind of quiet melancholy and hit it dead-on thanks to the restrained performances and precise arrangements. Basically, when they set aside the understandable desire to make songs that have a chance to be hits, they instead make music that draws the listener in more by leaving space for them. Haines sounds more invested vocally in these tracks, the band's expanded use of synths and restraint within the mix makes the music more interesting, and it truly seems like this is the direction the band want to go in the future. They reached the top, and once there, maybe they decided it wasn't the most interesting place to be. Ending the album with a two-part synthesizer instrumental certainly would seem to bear this out. Metric didn't start off as a chart topping, arena-filling band, but they became a great one. Pagans in Vegas can be viewed as their first post-success album and while the struggle for their musical soul that plays out over its course makes for a sometimes less than coherent listen, it's always an interesting one.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra