The Reminder, Feist’s last album, blew the fuck up because it had a few good singles with great videos, because it showed up prominently in some commercials, and because it generally sounded just about perfect as a low-volume dinner-party soundtrack. That reads as extremely faint praise, but it’s not; The Reminder was a perfectly charming low-key record that served a definite utilitarian purpose, and we need records like that. But it’s still a bit of a surprise when Metals opens with “The Bad In Each Other,” a pulsing, mythic post-blues lope that sounds something like Feist’s take on Led Zeppelin III. The song isn’t a radical departure; it’s as pretty and restrained as anything on The Reminder. But it’s also tougher and more intense than anything on that album. It’s an enormously promising opening track, and it suggests that Feist has gained a ferocious level of swagger since finding indie-level stardom.
The track turns out to be something of a fake-out. Other songs, like “A Commotion,” might bring the loudness, but “The Bad In Each Other” is by far the album’s best song, and nothing else (except maybe “Cicadas And Gulls”) really comes close to its toothy power. Almost every track on Metals could fit comfortably onto The Reminder. And though there’s no single track as winsomely catchy as “1234,” it’s easy to forecast the album achieving the same backgrounded cultural omnipresence. It has the same prettily sensitive lilt to it, and it’ll work just as well when I’m washing dishes at night or putting my toddler to bed.
But Metals still represents a step beyond The Reminder just because it’s a more confident, less self-consciously adorable piece of work. For one thing, I’m pretty sure it’s Feist’s first album with no cover songs. And for another, it’s a more grounded, sonically stark record than any of her previous efforts. Her voice is slighter and more approachable, but the album still has accents of Fiona Apple’s lush-pop panache. And it’s hard to imagine the Feist of a few years ago pulling off a moment like the choral climax of “Graveyard.” Metals may feature hushed harmonies and songs about birds, but there’s nothing nose-wrinkle cute about it. The record remains fully serious all the way through, and that’s probably what it needed to do.
I’m not expecting Metals to carve out a new audience for Feist or to dominate year-end lists. The same people who liked The Reminder will probably like this one. Except this time, maybe they’ll be a little less reflexively embarrassed about it.