Being part of the rather incestuous Canadian music scene, Leslie Feist has always been pretty well-connected. A sometime member of Broken Social Scene, former flatmate of Peaches, mates with Mocky… the list goes on.
All these hip friends haven’t helped her make the big-time yet, despite previous album Let It Die playing host to one of the best Bee Gees cover versions ever and the wonderfully wistful Mushaboom soundtracking a perfume commercial.
However, you get the impression that Universal are banking on Feist’s third album being her big breakthrough record. She’s still as unclassifiable as ever of course – Norah Jones-style lounge jazz sits next to sunny indie pop with a few minimilist lo-fi folk numbers thrown in for good measure – but the songs here are amongst her most commercial yet.
Indeed, there are several songs here that could sit quite happily on daytime Radio 2 – yet don’t fear that Feist has gone soft or sold out in some way. There’s always the sense that, rather like her closest contemporary Cat Power, that Feist is teetering on the edge of some personal crisis rather than wallowing in cosy melancholy.
Take opening track So Sorry for example. On the surface, a pleasant jazzy plea to a lover she’s had an argument with. But it’s the emotion in Feist’s fragile vocals, underpinned by some sweet backing vocals by Jamie Liddell, that really lift the song to a higher level. Similarly, album highlight The Limit To Your Love is a dramatic ballad of the sort that Fiona Apple does so well, and shows off Feist’s sometimes tremelous vocals to their best advantage.
Yet as ever with the Canadian songstress, The Reminder is particularly difficult to classify. In between the yearning ballads are shiny happy pop songs such as The Moon My Man and especially 1234. The latter is probably the catchiest thing she’s ever done, a nursery rhyme style melody set to acoustic guitar, strings, banjo and a quite brilliant brass section. The sound of the summer lies within.
Even the weaker songs here have something to recommend them. Intuition meanders along pleasantly if inconsequentially, right until there’s a lovely call-and-response moment from Feist’s backing singers. The Park seems more of a mood-piece than a tune, but the amount of strange sounds in the backing mix keeps one listening.
In fact probably the only failure here is Sea Lion Woman. It’s hypnotic and addictive, but the fact that it “contains elements” of the Nina Simone song of the same name (whatever happened to the cover version?) means that any singer is going to come off worse when compared to one of the true legends of modern music.
Overall though, this is a fine album and certainly Feist’s best yet. Whether it be the haunting Honey Honey or the swaggering The Moon My Man, there’s guaranteed to be something of interest for all. The Canadian music scene goes from strength to strength.