Title: The Look
Description: single; album track, The English Riviera
Label: Because Music
Release date: 2011
First heard: 2011
Oh yeah. I could feel the cool breeze on my face as I risked everything and sailed this close to the present in a strict survey of my favourite songs of all time.
I first entered this song in 2014, just three years after it was released. It made me feel so … alive. Could a tune I heard for the very first time just over three years previously really be included in The 143? Well, I proved it. Yes it can. (Now it’s release is nine years into the past, virtually something that originally came in form of sheet music.)
In many ways, at the time, this entry felt like perhaps the purest selection of them all, as the only objective context to subjectively influence my decision to induct it is that I heard the song when the album was dropped in my 6 Music pigeonhole by a friendly radio plugger, loved it at first listen and had been playing it regularly ever since (at the expense of anything else on its parent album – this remains so). I knew next to nothing about the band Metronomy, but that’s not important. I know I saw them on Later around the same time, and they performed this deceptively simple tune (and The Bay) live, so I had in mind that they were a band of three men and one woman and that was enough. I knew that The Look was special.
It wasn’t yet a single when I first heard it in situ, as I am old-fashioned enough to feel duty-bound to do. Then it was simply Track 4 on third album The English Riviera. (I didn’t know they were from Devon; I do now.) She Wants had been the lead-off single choice. But you didn’t need to be Mystic Meg to hear The Look at a potential smash hit. Some light research tells me that it reached 190 in the UK Charts, a giddy height Metronomy singles have yet to match. (It did better in France; they do better in France.) Because the band had somehow filtered through to me, and because I simply take zero interest in the UK Chart, I had assumed, in a cavalier fashion, that Metronomy were a chart band. They most certainly were not in 2011. The album, unhindered by a Mercury nomination, actually broke the Top 30, but only just. Though I was blissfully unaware of the fact, The English Riviera was their first to go Top 30. As I wrote in the original draft of this entry, “I’m only discovering all this today. Literally today.”
That I appear to still love a song that wasn’t a hit single makes no difference to me. I had never heard the band’s previous albums. But The English Riviera remains a British album to restore my faith not just in modern music but in myself. If you are in my company for long enough, you will hear me exclaim that modern music does very little for me. When, in the Guardian in 2014, I read that the album was apparently dead (sales of individual downloads has bypassed traditional album sales, suggesting an inevitable shift in listening habits from long-form to quick-fix – actually it was more like the death of context), my first thought was: well, I’ve got plenty of albums to be going on with.
In truth, I do not add to my record collection that often. Since leaving 6 Music, I have to be sufficiently moved by something on Later, or 6 Music, to actually truffle it out and listen to it again. But then I ask: is it worth money? Usually not. Sometimes – Pharrell Williams, Daft Punk, Arctic Monkeys, Arcade Fire, currently Sleaford Mods and Fonatines DC – it is, though I rarely, doggedly repair to the actual Rough Trade shop to buy an actual clunky old CD. (I update this entry from an actual thing called a lockdown, where going to any kind of shop is a nostalgic dream.) But the gaps between purchases widen. This is not modern music’s doing, it’s my own. I’ve gone and got older, that’s all.
So, The Look. Such a significant song. So meaningful in that even though it arrived free of charge in my pigeonhole before I had the chance to invest money in the band and their record company, I wanted to keep it. I wanted to cherish it and save it for a rainy day. From the palm-tree cover design, through the seagull noises and crashing waves that open the album and bleed evocatively under We Broke Free, this album is just the sort of archly knowing yet affectionately sincere English statement that used to be a Prefab Sprout album in my graduate years. The dominant, squirky synth sounds are countered by the warm verité of Joseph Mount’s high-pitched Glam vocals and those minor guitar chords, the cocktail salt-rimmed by what sounds like actual school percussion.
There’s more seaside in the ersatz Wurlitzer organ, which fades nostalgically in, artfully placed by Mount within a cavernous ballroom echo, creating melancholy and uplift, irony and sincerity at the same time, and what you would have to pigeonhole as a killer hook. It never wavers, never misses a rep, while Mount trills about “going round in circles”, which might describe the structure of the song itself, nudged on by a remedial but actual, analogue drum beat and given new colours by sunbursts of guitar and what might actually be a Stylophone, strategically inferred to ensnare the mums and dads, who remember which TV star used to advertise it.
I find the lyric about “this town” utterly endearing and personal; double-edged and defiant. The protagonists from this town which we must assume to be Totnes are “always running round” a place Mount describes without a sneer as “the oldest friend of mine”. Its small-mindedness and routines bite hard (“And to think they said we’d never make anything better than this”), but hope springs eternal: “Remember all the things we took, took.”
It’s a song you can play over and over and over again, without pause. It’s almost analgesic. It makes you want to go and live on the South West coast and occupy a place where everyone knows you’re trouble. It would be unfair to pin all my jaded, beaten-up, won’t-get-fooled-again hopes on Metronomy, whose names I barely know and whose career I have only half-followed. But on this side of the sea, they seem the a decent bet for a brighter future. And if not, it doesn’t matter. They have achieved greatness in my house, where I do like to be beside this A-side.