Gone is the shimmering sequin jumpsuit of “1234.” Leslie Feist’s newest album Metals casts a more natural, less flashy glow.
Feist was a bit feistier in her electro-punk days, when she was known by the stage name “Bitch Lap Lap.” Since then she’s tamed down: The performance of “1234” on Sesame Street? Yes, that happened. Despite trips to Egypt and Mexico, Feist claims that the four-year gap between The Reminder and Metals was filled with mostly boring trivialities. She planted some tomatoes — how lovely. Recording Metals, she spent two-and-a-half weeks in a wooden room located in beachy, mountainous, rainy, February California. These pleasant banalities combined with naturally breathtaking surroundings seem to offer a perfect explanation for Metals. It’s a tenderly crafted amalgamation — earthy, gorgeous, but admittedly dull at times.
Metals opens with the highly melodic “The Bad in Each Other.” An untiring energy instantly asserts itself, as the song starts with an emphatic repetition of stomp-claps whose beat bears resemblance to a metalsmith at work, hammering away at the beginnings of a shining creation. Feist effortlessly melds in an electric guitar and the song takes on an almost intimidating power. She keeps everything in check with a seemingly reassuring chorus, the familiar Feist voice swaying along with orchestral and brass accompaniments. The lyrics, however, remain delightfully down-to-earth as they muse about, quite simply, a couple with issues.
Unfortunately, “The Bad in Each Other” is a bit misleading. Metals is flecked with gold, to be sure, but it begins to tarnish in some areas. The instant favorite will likely be “How Come You Never Go There.” It has an unassuming coolness, taking its time in developing a three-and-a-half-minute rhetorical question. After a slow beginning, “Graveyard” slowly revitalizes itself as a youthful-sounding chorus chants, “Bring ’em all back to life.”
Feist returns to the primal appeal of repetitive incantations in “Undiscovered First,” a song that gradually inclines and culminates in yet another chorus belting out rhetorical questions semi-metaphorically related to mountains and rivers. She must have figured two songs ending in an echoing mantra isn’t enough: “Comfort Me” too concludes in repetition, this time a rousing round of “nah’s.” Maybe she ran out of words to repeat by that point.
Metals maintains some sense of volatility in the track “A Commotion.” It starts with a frenzy of strings spiccato-ing in unison, Feist’s voice weightless above the percussive bowings. She then commissions a gang of men to yell, “A commotion!” and the song detonates, in perhaps Feist’s most dramatic chorus to date, adding significant weight to the album.
However, half of Metals seems to be on the less-precious side. Feist’s voice gilds the album with the warm glow present in, well, every song of hers ever. Her most appropriately titled track, “Anti-Pioneer,” is a melancholy anti-tune that drones on for five-and-a-half minutes. A brief orchestral upsurge attempts to conduct some sort of energy, but is stubbed much too prematurely by Feist. Her singing is, as always, beautiful, but it’s unfair for Feist to rely on her signature croon to carry a song, let alone half an album. The lyrics throughout Metals make a commendable effort to make up for lackluster melodies, but metaphors about wind, trees and various bird species can only do so much.
Feist’s album seems to have been created, most of all, for Feist. While perhaps self-indulgent, her songs are certainly less likely to glitter and fizzle out like “1234” did. In an interview with Agence France-Presse, Feist explains that Metals is meant to be a timeless and more malleable album.
“I tried to plant the possibility for it to adapt with me,”she said. “I tried to be really responsible for the fact I know I’m going to be singing these songs for the rest of my life.”
But while Feist may be singing these songs for the rest of her life, the rest of us are left with a vague recollection of semi-melodic digressions and ecological metaphors.