ESSENTIAL "Gimme Sympathy"
If life was fair, Metric's third disc, "Live It Out," would have been the biggest pop smash of 2005. The calculus was all there: a knock-your-socks-off anthem ("Monster Hotel"), a knock-your-socks-off frontwoman (Emily Haines), and an indie rock pedigree carved out of solid gold (Haines and guitarist Jimmy Shaw both served time in megagroup/cool-kid-collective Broken Social Scene). Instead, "Live It Out" sizzled with critics and sank on the sales charts, eventually petering out just a few months after its release. Now the Canadian quartet is back with "Fantasies," another extra-strength pop album, anchored by "Help I'm Alive," another extra-strength pop anthem. Hooks are the name of the game here, and Shaw and Haines don't skimp: "Satellite Mind" coasts on a buttery bass line before shattering into an ascendant major-key chorus; "Sick Muse" downshifts from a roar to a stutter-stop verse. "Who'd you rather be, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones?" Haines rhapsodizes over the whirring synth swirl of "Gimme Sympathy." But why do we have to choose between winsomely orchestrated musicality and rough-hewn rock 'n' roll? "Fantasies" has both in spades. The trick will be channeling the album's full-throated ballast into mainstream chart success. (Out now) MATTHEW SHAER