Best tunes of 2003: #17 Metric “Combat baby”

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As I’ve mentioned previously in these pages*, it was my friend Jez that introduced me to Canadian-based indie rock group, Metric. He loaned me a copy of their debut album, “Old world underground, where are you?”, a CD he had purchased at one their shows, which I promptly ripped to mp3 and listened to quite a bit during my morning walks to work.

Metric must have come to Ottawa a number of times in the early 2000s because it seems to me that Jez saw them multiple times at very tiny clubs. After the first time, he tried to get me to come out for the next one, raving about Metric’s live energy, especially that of frontwoman Emily Haines. He would go on to describe in great detail her peculiar dance, which I’ve since witnessed personally a few times. However, I’ve often wished that I had had the funds to join him for at least one of those early gigs because I think that her almost awkward dance and nervous energy would have translated even better on those intimate stages.

“Old world underground, where are you?” was like a breath of fresh air when it was released, especially for me. The first couple of years of the 2000s were a bit of a rough go musically. I had felt in a bit of a rut after the high of Britpop and was having a hard time getting motivated about new music. Metric’s debut was probably the first album I had heard from the new breed of Canadian indie rock bands that would go on to catch the music world on fire for the next five years or so. I had previously focused most of my attentions on music from the UK, through much of the 90s anyway, so having some favourites from my home country was almost a new thing to me.

“Combat baby” was actually released as a single from the album a whole year after the album’s release and it started to catch a lot of radio play. Before that though, it was just one of many tracks on an album I knew intimately from so many repeats on my MPIO mp3 player. Like many of the tunes, it is a quick hit, short and high energy and though when I think of “Old world underground, where are you?” I remember it as mostly a synth pop album, “Combat baby” is one of the more heavy hitting tracks. It plays almost to the angular post-punk scales, or to the borderline new wavers, definitely some Blondie vibes throughout.

“Said you would never give up easy
Combat baby, come back”

It kicks in with a chugging drum machine beat before the bass line picks up the barbells and starts flexing. The guitars just drive like the wind and you can almost picture Emily Haines strutting her stuff and wagging her head back and forth to get her blond hair flailing. And all the while, she is snarling wistfully about a lost lover, an antagonist, a bustle of excitement that didn’t settle for the status quo, but that might’ve since perhaps gone soft and settled, and she is missing that edge. By the end, though, you get the feels that she is kissing off, that she will be “fighting off the lethargy” and “painting the town black” going forward. Yes indeed.

*Back when one of Metric’s later tracks, “Breathing underwater”, came in at number 15 on my Best tunes of 2012 list.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2003 list, click here.

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