“I know it’ll need to go from good to worse,” Leslie Feist sings to begin “The Circle Married the Line.” The opening line to the plaintive center piece of the singer/songwriter’s forth outing distills the theme of the superlative concept album to its gut wrenching essence: the tragedy of the present. Metals wonders, ponders and laments in the claustrophobic walls of a past that can’t be recreated, and a future that can’t be avoided. The result is a collection of introspective vignettes that add up to a whole more broadly resonant than the sum of its already impressive parts, and one of the year’s most fully realized albums.
The muscular drums and ominous chords that power the opener, “The Bad In Each Other” quickly put to rest any lingering memories of “1234,” Feist’s 2007 breakthrough hit and the neon tinted iPod commercial that rendered it ubiquitous. The understated urgency of “The Bad in Each Other” seems to be building towards an explosive catharsis, but instead, the hook delivers a resigned elegy, augmented by somber strings, setting the tone for a record set more in the purgatory of a dying romance than the hell of a dead one. As such, Metals vacillates deftly between delicately rendered, largely acoustic snapshots of a happier past (“Bittersweet Melodies”), and moody, electric tinged projections of a future of uncertainty (“Undiscovered Firsts”) which work in concert to frame the tumultuous picture Feist paints of the now (“Comfort Me”).
While thematically a concept album, Feist’s eclectic musical pallet provides ample variation to make Metals a dynamic listening experience. The deliberate pacing and precise phrasing of the folkish “Caught a Long Wind” seamlessly segue into the smokey blues of “How Come You Never Go There,” just as the throbbing percussion and chanted chorus of “A Commotion” render the lyrically dense minimalism of “The Circle Married the Line” all the more poignant. Through music and lyrics, Feist nimbly chronicals a sprawling emotional pilgrimage even as the relationship at the center of Metals remains defined by inertia.
The album concludes with an offering every bit as subdued as the opener is stormy. As “Get It Wrong Get It Right” unfolds over a wistful guitar, Feist manages to deliver an understated, yet powerful resolution that ultimately defines Metals not so much as a break up album or a make up album, but as a journey to acceptance.