Canadian singer-songwriter Leslie Feist probably appreciates the financial rewards—and subsequent artistic freedom—that a hit brings, but if she had it to do over again, would she want to be so closely identified with the chirpy 2007 pop single “1234,” or with 2004’s equally sprightly “Mushaboom?” Judging by Metals, her follow-up to the million-selling LP The Reminder, Feist is anxious to be thought of more as the adventurous artist she actually is, and not as some elfin waif who wandered off the set of a puppet show and into a recording studio. Metals is largely ditty-free, tilting heavily toward Feist’s folk, R&B, and avant-garde sides. Anyone who listened closely to The Reminder and Let It Die shouldn’t be too surprised by this; only those who think of Feist as a novelty act will be baffled.
Metals isn’t inaccessible, though, and it isn’t trying to be. At times, Feist seems to be working on a way to fuse Nick Cave and Kate Bush—especially on the bluesy, symphonic album-opening trio of “The Bad In Each Other,” “Graveyard,” and “Caught A Long Wind”—and she uses just about every instrumental tool at her disposal to sell this sound, from horns, strings, and bells to soulful background vocals.
Feist has been known in the past to settle for fragments of ideas, relying on her rangy, expressive voice to make even a wisp sound gripping. She does that on this record sometimes, too, as on the abstract dirge “Anti-Pioneer” and the sketchy, growly “Undiscovered First.” But Metals is more defined by songs like the Aretha Franklin/Dusty Springfield-esque “How Come You Never Go There”; the percussive, Spoon-like “A Commotion”; and the sweet, slow-building “The Circle Married The Line,” the Metals song most likely to break wider. The off-the-cuffness of her earlier work is missed a little, but there’s a satisfying fullness to Metals, as Feist maintains the dramatic fragility of a moment even as the kettledrums boom.