Feist The Reminder(Cherry Tree/Interscope) Buy it from Insound
It's official: we have a trend on our hands. You know what I'm talking about - female vocalist, stripped-down arrangements, rootsy songs, etc. Neko Case, Jenny Lewis, and Cat Power have all recently recorded albums that sound like, or wish that, they were recorded decades ago, when the music was pure and simple. This is understandable given that improvements in technology have, not surprisingly, done little to improve artistic expression, which does not lie along the same upward progress curve as, say, making widgets. Nobody in English has topped Shakespeare even though we now have better pens. So why not mine the rich territory of American blues and soul rather than surrender to the blips and bleeps of today's most exceedingly overrated genre, electronica? How much mood and mystery are you ever expecting to find in your laptop anyway? Not much.
But there's a tightrope here and I'm not sure any of these artists have walked it unerringly. You see, it's one thing to crank up the large hall reverb and throw out the superfluous embellishments; it's quite another to faithfully reproduce what made those old records so powerful. The fact is there is no replacement for a good song, effectively performed. Just because something "sounds" like a classic record, it doesn't mean it is. The Reminder makes this case powerfully. It's clear that a lot of attention has been paid in crafting the sound of this album. In fact, like most of the works by artists I've mentioned it all sounds a little too deliberate. And so we have a rock critic trap lying in wait for us, which many have fallen into recently. That is the temptation to declare a "very good" album some sort of instant classic, just because it's aurally resonant of "Mystery Train".
I almost fell into it myself. On my first few listens The Reminder had me intrigued. Feist's vocal performance is an obvious standout. She is an incredibly emotive singer and you cannot help but be pulled in. The question is, what do we find once we get there? Occasionally, her performance is so strong it actually carries the material, as on the opener "So Sorry". Her leap of a third on the refrain is a prime example of what a strong vocalist can do to serve a song. Many of the uptempo numbers stand out, like "I Feel it All", "Sea Lion Woman" and "Past in Present". It's actually surprising, given her obvious talent for crooning, that so many of the ballads fall flat. Songs like "Intuition" and "The Water" suck the energy right out of the room, despite Feist's best efforts. Notable exceptions are "Brandy Alexander" with its ascending melodic line and "The Limit to Your Love", which takes some surprising turns.
Overall, I'm afraid it sounds better than it is. Some of the tunes I mentioned are download-worthy and would have been better served by a more consistent record, like Neko's latest for instance. It seems like more than a coincidence that the best material is the stuff Feist co-wrote with others. Forgive my presumption, but perhaps there's a lesson in that.7 May, 2007 - 20:42 — Alan Shulman