If The English Riviera (2011) captured summer days with its warm enveloping vision, Love Letters broods more plainly over the accompanying nostalgia, the melancholy side to summer highs. The perversion of the idyll is a manner Metronomy have perfected over their past three studio albums. Nights Out (2008) dealt with the unrealistic expectations of an all too frequently disappointing night out, and The English Rivera was spliced with yearning, always sounding as if a mocking wistfulness lay submerged in some synth line or bass hook. Love Letters continues this trend, and fittingly feels more mature than previous albums. Though ironically, this is the album’s greatest weakness.
The lyrics of the album fluctuate between lamenting the past, enduring the present, and for an instant on the title track, being excited about an emergent love. In almost every song, an initially optimistic lyric is twisted to suit a downhearted purpose. Much of the album contemplates the feeling of nostalgia for lost loves, for instance in The Most Immaculate Haircut, Joseph Mount cries “A shooting pain runs down my left hand side, and I…” (here comes the bitter twist) “… I think of you.” Similarly in Call Me, Mount sings “We could do anything, yeah we could try anything… You could be mine.” Such double meanings add interest and variation to the lyrics, though unlike previous Metronomy albums, the optimism in Love Letters is minimal which often leaves the album feeling lonely and detached.
Occasionally the need to enjoy the present is recognised, such as in Monstrous when Mount sings, “hold on tight because this might be the last time…” Yet such lyrics are tainted with the hopeless inevitability that life and love are slowly slipping through one’s fingers. The musicality of the album is similarly surprising, and often unexpected. The title track begins with a gloomy dialogue between three horn sounding instruments before suddenly bursting into a bright, chanting, chorus. Structurally, the song has the element of surprise on the listener and benefits from it, along with being made more exciting by an improvised sounding sax solo towards the end. Sadly, the sections (there is another beautifully carefree guitar solo at the end of The Upsetter) of Love Letters that revel in an easy atmosphere are too few.
The biggest difference between their most recent album and the previous is its sound. The trademarks the band have refined over their three previous studio albums - layered beats, repeated melodic hooks, nonchalant vocals - are still present, though they have been combined with psychedelic influences, reminiscent of the 1960s. Mount makes no secret of his influences, citing The Zombies among similar psychedelic outfits as a creative inspiration. This is most obvious in Month Of Sundays, one of the strongest songs on the album, with its guitar arpeggios, chord structure, and random bass twangs, all of which could have been lifted from Odyssey and Oracle. Love Letters seems content to just take a flavour of 60s influences, adopting the synths, chants, shoop-doo-doo-ahhs, and long melodic passages, without losing their trademark sound. However despite this, the album has less to tap your foot to than previous releases. Instead of capturing the bright sound of the 60s to create a sonically interesting soundscape, the album frequently sounds too much like it was made in London by a contemporary English band.
Love Letters is an album that’s aware of the passing of time, and that time passing is past. The album has not been thrown together lazily; the songs are thoughtfully arranged, and the album has a solid structure. It just feels lacking in something. Love Letters is undeniably listenable, though perhaps it’s the lack of energy that makes it an album to play in the background, or on a night in. Ultimately, what is, I think, the album’s greatest achievement, is realising that there is a bitter attachment to all things; for each colourful solo or bright melody, there is an accompanying cold lyric or brooding synth line. Unlike the cover’s lightly coloured waves, the album sounds grey and restrained, believing too intensely that pleasures of days past can only be relived through memory.