Pick any British act of the last 35 years that combined pop, rock and dance, and Metronomy probably sounds like it. The lightweight Brighton quartet, which played to a capacity crowd Saturday night at Northeast Washington’s Rock & Roll Hotel, has altered its style several times without ever becoming less derivative. The period the group evoked most strongly was, inevitably, the early ’80s. Singer, songwriter, guitarist and keyboardist Joseph Mount (who started as a one-man band) drew on the Cure and New Order, of course. But the chirpy material from Metronomy’s latest album, “The English Riviera,” was more reminiscent of such unfondly remembered combos as Spandau Ballet and the Thompson Twins.
In expanding the band, Mount has added two notable assets: bassist Gbenga Adelekan and drummer Anna Prior, whose playing put muscle beneath the tinkly melodies of such songs as “The Look” and “Radio Ladio.” Yet Mount hasn’t jettisoned his cheesier ideas, including having each musician wear a light on his or her chest. (These were originally battery-powered push lights, like the ones people buy for deep closets, but the band has upgraded to ones that turn on and off remotely and can pulse in tandem.) The band also relied on corny coordinated hand movements and such Spinal Tap-like exhortations as, “Rock and Roll Hotel, make some noise!” Musically, the low point may have been keyboardist Oscar Cash’s wobbly saxophone solo at the end of “Back On the Motorway,” which merely mimicked the tune’s synth hook.
Metronomy began as an electronic, all-instrumental outfit and still sounds best when it plays down vocals. While Mount is a serviceable glam-rock singer, heavy on the falsetto, his lyrics and vocal melodies are rudimentary. The band took some heat in Britain for imitating the Klaxons, supposed standard-bearers of the punk-goes-disco (yet again) “nu-rave” movement. But during Saturday’s 70-minute set, such Klaxons-like ravers as “The Bay” were the highlights. Pitting clattering beats against storming guitars is not a new idea, but of the many old ideas Metronomy appropriated, that one yielded the liveliest result.