It’s been six years since Leslie Feist released previous album ‘Metals,’ and in that period the times have certainly changed. Judging by ‘Pleasure,’ so has she. For anyone only familiar with some of her biggest singles, including the nursery rhyme-like ‘1234,’ the often uncompromising, stripped-back nature of her new record will probably come as a huge surprise.
Elements of the comforting, homely warmth of her previous output still remains, and there’s a very occasional sense of playfulness present, such as in the bird-like coos of closer ‘Young Up’ or the defiant chanting of ‘I’m Not Running Away.’ But for the most part, ‘Pleasure’ reveals itself to be her most haunting work to date straight from the off. The opening title track introduces this new Feist, who plays growling, bluesy guitar licks and tortured, lo-fi torch songs, singing without any restraint in a way that can sometimes be emotionally brutalising.
She moves between wails and snarls, and on the likes of ‘I Wish I Didn’t Miss You’ her sense of pain over love lost reverberates through every echoed line. There’s often few instruments accompanying her and the guitar, keeping things to a smattering of handclaps, the faintest touch of woodwind or the occasionally glassy tone lingering in the background. But as well as lending the album its intensely intimate tone, these minimalist compositions also help to highlight Feist’s knack for spinning poetry in her lyrics. Speaking of the trees that “lean north like calligraphy”, for instance, she evokes the sublime, naturalist imagery of romanticism to emphasise her own sense of inner disquiet on ‘The Wind’.
It’s not all completely hushed though, and there are a couple of more rambunctious flashes. But rather than being moments of more unbridled optimism, they’re tempered by Feist’s words and delivery. ‘Any Party’ is an Americana-tinged stomper, but its constant refrain of “you’d know I’d leave any party for you” turns from being a sweeping, romantic statement into a lament for unrequited love the more she professes it. That only becomes more apparent when it turns into a singalong moment for a choir of male voices all clearly tinged with sadness. Grungy guitar tones sometimes accompany the overtly theatrical ‘Century,’ but the languid tones of none other than Jarvis Cocker chime in to remind the listener that a hundred years is “almost as long as one of those endless dark nights of the soul”.
Across the course of the album, ‘Pleasure’ gradually reveals itself to be something of an ironic title. Feist is in a heart-shattering mood, happy to mine the darkest recesses of her soul and lay her feelings on the line for all to see. While there are flashes of lyrical and musical positivity, Feist continually reminds us that there’s always a flipside to happiness. However, while it’s not always the easiest of listens, the raw emotional honesty and potency of her arrangements makes it truly a pleasure to have Leslie Feist back.