You really can't blame Feist for grabbing the solo reins and steering her career into ubiquity. After all, if you were a member of the 20-strong-and-counting Broken Social Scene — one of the many Canadian indie-rock groups that seem to employ 89 percent of the country's young people — you'd look for ways to stand out, too.
Feist (first name: Leslie) stood out in a big way last year. She released her fourth album, The Reminder, which became a hit with critics, coffee drinkers and people who watch lots of TV. She scored a Top 10 hit with "1234," thanks to an iPod commercial. And she was nominated for four Grammy Awards, three of which she lost to crack fan Amy Winehouse. No matter. Of all the Great White North's buzzmakers who have impressed blog writers and hipsters over the past few years, not one has penetrated the mainstream like Feist.
She also remains one of music's most in-demand auxiliary players. She has written and performed with mopey Norwegian duo Kings of Convenience. She has shown up on many of her compatriots' albums. And she has collaborated with electroclash provocateur Peaches under the name Bitch Lap Lap. So one wonders: What would Feist bring to some classic rock albums made by other Canadians?
To prep you for Feist's show at Starlight Theatre this week, here are four of our favorite Canadian albums — and how Feist could make them more, well, Feisty.
Arcade Fire, Funeral
What It Is: As its title implies, the 2004 debut by these indie-rock faves is steeped in death. Busy, stuffed with complex arrangements and played feverishly on instruments you won't find at the mall, Funeral is a potentially depressing work, joyously performed by Canada's most innovative band.
What It Could Be: Like Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire consists of so many members that somebody's always getting lost between gigs. And nobody notices. So this wouldn't be too much of a change for Feist, who's used to this sort of band anonymity. Still, there's little room for her rainy-day laments here.
Most Feisty Song: "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" — Musically, it's Funeral's most downcast track. Perfect for Feist's occasionally melancholy voice.
The Band, Music From Big Pink
What It Is: Bob Dylan's old backing band kicks it like porch-dwelling Southerners on its 1968 debut. An Americana milestone, Music From Big Pink is Canadian by default: Four of its five members were born up north. But the record is pure America — the sound of weary vets digging their roots in the middle of the Vietnam War.
What It Could Be: Many of the timeless songs here call out for female harmonies — not that Richard Manuel wasn't capable of hitting the high notes. In fact, his falsetto probably reached peaks that Feist's smoky voice could never scale.
Most Feisty Song: "The Weight" — Feist would kill on the round-robin verses, which really need a woman's voice to smooth out all the testosterone.
Leonard Cohen, Songs of Leonard Cohen
What It Is: Cohen was a respected poet and writer long before he released his 1968 debut, which is partly responsible for every other self-absorbed singer-songwriter of the '70s. Cohen, however, labored over songs, sometimes spending years fine-tuning them. It took Taylor James 47 seconds to write "Your Smiling Face."
What It Could Be: Cohen's winding, wordy songs are well-suited to Feist, who knows her way around a rhythmic lyric. Although most of the 10 songs feature female backing vocals, the parts are high-pitched and rather annoying. Cohen's deep rumble could use a solid anchor like Feist.
Most Feisty Song: "So Long, Marianne" — Songs' jauntiest cut is also its most tuneful. Look no further than "1234" for jaunty and tuneful.
Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill
What It Is: Morissette's 1995 breakthrough CD pretty much opened pop's airwaves to high-maintenance, stalker-crazy women who shared way too much information about their personal lives. Thanks to her, we can't go to a movie anymore without wondering if the guy next to us is getting a blow job.
What It Could Be: Feist is sweet to Morissette's sour, the cream in her coffee. Morissette really needs to chill, and the laid-back Feist could help. It's hard to picture the tranquil Feist getting all worked up, let alone territorial, about a man.
Most Feisty Song: "Hand in My Pocket" — Most of Pill's tracks are bitter bites. This one strolls a more peaceful path. Besides, Feist seems like she might actually know the correct definition of ironic.