Thursday, 27 October 2011

Feisty Metals/Metallic Feistiness

by George Bate

The media I read would have me believe there does not exist a Canadian woman out there who doesn't at least look this gorgeous.

Feist has a new album out you say? I better write a review then.

Score? Three shiny stars from Elmo. That's THREE, not FOUR. Silly Feist.

Leslie Feist cuts an intriguing figure whichever way you look at her; having first found her way into the cultural consciousness as a sidekick to bizarre shock-rapper Peaches, her music has now become the soundtrack to countless dinner parties and earned her a place on Sesame Street, yet she still retains her street cred with hip indie kids. Her last album, 2007’s The Reminder landed her in a position similar to early-2000s Moby, in demand with dozens of advertising executives keen to maintain a sense of their artistic cool. It was the dilemma caused by this explosion of popularity that led to her self-imposed 18 month exile from the music world. She claims to have simply found herself bored with the idea of playing music, and spent some time working on other projects, including (of course) some acting.

Those ad executives will be relieved then at the release of her new album, Metals, and her return to the fore. The album was announced in typically arty fashion when Feist announced a “colour by numbers” competition to design the cover artwork early this year. Produced with the help of the same collaborators as The Reminder, Metals finds Feist not making any giant leaps with regard to her sound. So far so good; if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Those execs will be pleased.

Colour by numbers: not just for kids

Unfortunately, for those of us not interested in flogging our wares, the spark that permeated her last two records does not seem to be quite as bright here. Oh yes, the sound is very much the same, but the songwriting somehow feels a little less inspired. Take “Bittersweet Melodies” for example, it falls very close both thematically and musically to Feist’s previous work, but it somehow feels more basic, with little depth in comparison. More child-like, perhaps.

Ten points to Griffyndoor if you know who Feist's mates are

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad album as such. It’s just that it doesn’t quite have that y-factor (I’m using this substitute as I despair at what a certain show has done to our culture) that pushed her past two previous efforts from good towards great. The Reminder’s pop pomp was what made it spectacular. With “Let it Die” it was it’s oddly soothing darkness. But despite it’s difficult birth, Metals sits somewhere between the two, and this is its main problem. The record works best where it strives to be one or the other, and not both. This is evidenced by lead single “How Come You Never Go There”, which goes musically for the tap-along efforts of her last record, and is permeated by an excellent rustic country-like  guitar solo and powerful but subtle brass accompaniment. On the opposite side is “Anti-Pioneer”. It may be sad, but it’s a dress that fits. When Feist goes for something other than these two extremes the tracks feel bland and seem to segue into each other, passing the listener by.

Though the mainstream press may have already lauded its praises on Metals, I can’t help but be a little more reserved. It’s not that I don’t like the album. I do, it’s just that I know Feist can do much better. Great artists can’t always make great albums, and just because it’s kooky and Canadian, that fact doesn’t automatically make it awesome.