While I spent the summer of 2008 clock-watching in a dead-end nine-to-five, Joe Mount was preparing to release his second LP, and critical breakthrough, ‘Nights Out’. It’s still my favourite Metronomy record, in part because of its power to transport me to a more innocent time, and in part because of all the happy memories it’s subsequently soundtracked. Mostly, it’s thanks to its consistency as a set and the carefree quality to Mount’s songwriting. Eight years on, ‘Radio Ladio’ and the rest remain industrial-strength pop bangers, written long before the term “banger” became common parlance, let alone a misappropriated catch-all for anything with a vaguely whistleable melody.
Apparently, I’m not alone in feeling nostalgic. As Mount explains in the press release for this fifth LP, “I wanted to make another record with the naivety of ‘Nights Out’: ten tracks, straight up, upbeat. Write another banger, then another, and don’t really think about it.” To do so, he’s temporarily rebooted Metronomy as a solo project , and reverted to the DIY recording methods of the first two records, instead of approximating a lo-fi feel in expensive studios as per ‘Love Letters’.
It’s a promising starting point, and ‘Summer 08’ features some lovely easter eggs that ‘Nights Out’ fans will appreciate. There’s the crooked synths and meandering, almost discordant bassline on ‘Mick Slow’, both of which seem plucked straight from ‘Side Two’. On ‘Back Together’, Mount reprises his amusingly high-pitched impersonation of “female” vocals a la ‘A Thing For Me’, and ‘Old Skool’ and ‘Hang Me Out To Dry’ revive the lyrical motif of driving. Throughout, ‘Summer 08’ shares a similarly crepuscular tone to ‘Nights Out’, cutting a stark contrast with the chirping seagull samples that open the daylight-drenched vistas of ‘The English Riviera’.
Where the two albums really differ is in tone. While the former largely focuses on no-strings-attached flings or skims over heartbreak, this sequel offers a more mature perspective on hedonism, reflecting on sudden stardom and the subsequent strain on personal connections. That’s not to say there aren’t moments of joyous frivolity – see the flirtatious ‘Back Together’ and ‘Old Skool’’s wry portrait of London nightlife – but mostly Mount is preoccupied with the difficulties of preserving a lasting relationship on the road. There were signs of dissatisfaction on ‘Nights Out’ in lines like “All those evenings, spent disappointed on dancefloors,” but on ‘Love’s Not An Obstacle’ he sounds worn out, hollowly recounting “14 weeks with 14 lovers” and concluding, “Everything’s so complicated.”
In line with its subject matter, Mount’s arrangements often feel subdued, most notably during the aforementioned ‘Mick Slow’ and the plaintive ‘Summer Jam’. This in itself is not a criticism, but there are songs that fail to deliver, most notably ‘Hang Me Out To Dry’. Boasting a chorus that features Robyn’s airy vocals gliding over fluttering hi-hats and a bass-y ping-pong synth line, Mount repeatedly strips away momentum with muted verses of sighing synths and mournful contemplation. It’s a decent enough track but, coming from two of the decade’s greatest electro-pop pioneers, decent equals disappointing.
And therein lies the issue with ‘Summer 08’: it never quite delivers on its potential. The BPMs rarely raise pulse rates, and for an album supposedly bursting with bangers, it features far too few. But then maybe that’s Mount’s point: we’ll never recapture the euphoria of youth, so those rose-tinted memories should be relegated to the past.