On paper, it seems almost perverse: A band whose signature sound is smooth, plush and avowedly modern opts to record their fourth album in Toe Rag, an eight-track, analog studio whose name is synonymous with all things raw and punkish. But then, Joseph Mount — singer/songwriter, producer and the hand on the Metronomy tiller — isn’t much bothered by expectation, his need to entertain himself apparently exceeding his eagerness to please others.
Happily, his song-writing talents have always allowed him to do both, and Love Letters is no less instantly irresistible than the band’s Mercury Prize-nominated The English Riviera of 2011. It is, however, remarkably different, echoing the gloriously urgent sounds of Motown at its peak — notably in the horn-blasted, heavily harmonised title track — more than Steely Dan’s slick fusion. There are nods, too, to Liverpool’s pop heritage (on “Month of Sundays” and “The Most Immaculate Haircut”) and to Abba (again, the title track).
All of which might make Love Letters sound like retro homage. It’s not; as the wonderfully watery “I’m Aquarius” shows, Mount is as attuned to the contemporary R&B-pop likes of Frank Ocean as he is the Four Tops or the Supremes. And he’s sharp enough to recognize the value of a compellingly linear, mid-point instrumental (“Boy Racers”), not only as a break from the album’s overall buoyancy, but also from the issues of distance, separation and relationship fracture that are its lyrical heart.