t may sadden some that the reigning star of Canadian folk ’n’ pop abandoned a sound that was smooth around the edges for something so utterly polished. It’s a tale as old as corporate absorption, and it’s hard to be sad when Leslie Feist’s new album retains so many elements of what made 2004’s Let it Die so successful, e.g., dancing; the way she emancipated happy music from detestability and threw in some sultriness for good measure. That album sold 500,000 copies, an astounding number for how pared down, unfettered, diaristic, and indie it was. Under the tutelage of producer Chilly Gonzales (also of Peaches fame; Peaches was Feist’s sometime roommate and tour mate), the post—as in used-to-be—punk chanteuse had reclined with a four-track in the late ’90s, and after much perambulation blossomed into a deservedly successful artist.
The Reminder partially equates success with relieving artists of their home-studio upbringings. But it definitely contains its fair share of flimsiness. It can’t so well be critiqued as a bad indie album, only for trying to be something else entirely from Let it Die, reaching up and outward to an even bigger audience than Feist’s already rapt, generation-crossing fans. It’s fairly and squarely an alien piece in the singer’s slim but majestic oeuvre. As far as Nina Simone tributes go, Timbaland’s album opener on Shock Value is recommended over Feist’s rendition of “See Line Woman.” She’s better at appropriating treadmill dancing to airport conveyer-belt walkways for the benighted and admittedly sexy single “My Moon My Man,” a track that’s unpretentiously full of musical bling, and is also all her own.
“Moon” happens to be the second video off the album to feature Feist and others maneuvered into neat, cheeky choreography, and it’s quickly becoming her trademark. “Mushaboom,” the biggest hit off Let it Die, featured the singer floating over cobblestoned streets and dreaming of retirement; “Moon” finds her—figuratively, mind you—lying prostrate at the feet of pop, preaching the word alongside the best of them. Her voice hovers in the same elegant realm, but the accompanying music has taken on the form of staid, tried, and simplistically true dance numbers. The only exceptions are the album’s bow-outs: “Honey Honey” and “How My Heart Behaves” return Feist to the drawing board where the voice tastefully obscures the rest. For the album to meander between gussied-up pop and bare, profound intonations is confusing; not many will enjoy trying to like the two elements at the same time. It’s easy to feel like this chameleon routine is actually a technical mishap or overshoot that made one hastily assembled, cook-crammed kitchen of an album.
You would have to have your pop auditory receptors completely severed, however, to hate this album. It is a timely spring (Starbucks) release that does refresh, but blame the potent season and Feist’s potential for that. The Reminder is rarely exciting or thrilling, and never revolutionary—save such positively hyperbolic associations for the artist herself, who even after this deserves them. Because it’s not that Feist herself is unlistenable, or lacks talent. On the contrary: more should be expected of this great musician. Once hooked on a star, her audience attentively hopes for a little more oomph as time wears on, and Feist’s mass appeal here is only a few tempo ranges away from Norah Jones.