When I was a kid, I thought “medal” was the same word as “metal”. For the longest time I just assumed those awards pinned to soldiers’ chests were called ‘metals’ because that’s what they were made of. It’s a subtle shift in pronunciation and accent between the two words, one that my young ears weren’t tuned into distinguishing.
Now all these years later, Metals is causing me some confusion yet again. This time it’s not its meaning, but the strange, curious 2011 Feist album that bares the word as it’s title. Once again, I’m having trouble distinguishing sounds, but it’s nothing even more subtler than /d/ and /t/; it’s the difference between a “great” album and one that is not “great”.
Of all the short listed albums, Metals is the one that I found hardest to come to a consensus about. Handsome Furs and Kathleen Edwards? They both wholly deserve their nomination, and I have no qualms about calling them great records. Grimes and Cold Specks? Both show some strong potential, but there’s room for these artists to develop yet. Leslie Fiest’s follow-up to the massively successful and ubiquitous The Reminder? Hell if I know what is going on there.
Metals changes just about every time I listen to it, sometimes it even changes while I’m listening to it. Right from the first time I put that record on, I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I loved “How Come You Never Go There” right off the bat, but found it much harder to come around to “Comfort Me” and “A Commotion”. One song would deliver sweet and delicate kisses, while another would punch you in the gut and take the wind right out of your lungs. It starts off as rock, then it gets poppy, then it goes folk, before going back to pop again, and somewhere in the middle of it all is some soul, gospel and jazz thrown in the mix for good measure. It was not the album I expected it would be, and subsequently I didn’t know whether that was a good or a bad thing. It would be unfair to Feist’s growth as an artist to want her to make The Reminder 2.0, but as a fan, I just couldn’t put my finger on my own thoughts and feeling about this record.
So I did what any logical minded music fan would: I made a chart. Heading one: Songs I Like/Love on Metals; heading two: Songs on Metals that I Hate. This will provide unequivocal evidence as to whether it was a great album or not. In column one I started out with “How Come You Never Go There” and “The Circle Married The Line”, then added “The Bad In Each Other” and “Bittersweet Melodies”, and eventually added “Cicadas And Gulls” and “Get It Wrong, Get It Right” (the song that might just be my favourite of the whole record). Are you keeping score? That six of the album’s twelve songs. 50%. You’ll note that I haven’t added any songs to column two, mainly because I found the word “hate” too strong a term. I didn’t hate any of the songs, and the more I listened to the other six, I realized they were an integral part of the whole.
Still, I had nagging doubts. My first instinct was to declare it merely “good”. Surely first impressions should carry some weight? Yet, as I lived with Metals, and Metals lived with me, I found myself humming its tunes and singing it’s lyrics even when the music wasn’t on. I almost exclusively listen to it as a whole from start to finish, never messing with its sequencing. And often times for reasons unbeknownst to me, I’ll feel the need to put the record on, as if there’s a certain something going on–in the house, in my life, in the world–and the only appropriate response is to listen to Metals.
Why the cold response at first? I have no idea. Why do I like it now, so much so that I would happily add it to the list of “great” albums of the past year? I’m drawing a blank here, too. Perhaps, like my younger self needing time to tell the difference between a ‘d’ and a ‘t’ sound, my older self needed time, too. Time to process, time to absorb, time to really listen before deciding whether Metals was medal-worthy.
Tags: Feist, Polaris Music Prize