It might have been when she emerged in that instantly iconic red dress to accept the Artist of the Year award, or maybe when she was belting out The Bad In Each Other amid a shower of sparks, but viewers of the 2012 Juno Awards were surely at some point thinking the same thing: Is Feist one of the greatest musicians this country has ever produced? Is she a Neil, a Joni, a Leonard now?
The question itself is problematic as it’s too soon to tell, but with a truckload of Junos, gold and platinum sales awards and two undisputable classic albums under her belt, it is rapidly becoming a fair one to pose. Feist has a many-starred career now, one that can’t be contained by a label like “indie rock” or “singer-songwriter.” Having played in venerated indie bands By Divine Right and Broken Social Scene, she has cred, yet unlike most indie darlings, your parents and maybe even your grandma could pick her out of a lineup. For all her stardom, though, she has cultivated a public image that she’s not afraid to have fun with – no one who has ever performed under a name like Bitch Lap Lapcan be said to lack a sense of humour.
She has also proved to be exceptionally versatile; singles such as Let It Die’s twee Mushaboom are far removed from the dry wit of The Reminder’s Brandy Alexander or the scorched-earth lament of Metals’s The Bad In Each Other. There’s manifestly more to her than 1234, however burned into our brains that tune and the ubiquitous iPod commercial built around it may be.
So why do we hesitate to deploy the “greatest of all time” argument? Because the question is impossible to answer, at least for now. It’s easy to say a record like Metals will hold up with time, because sonically, its acoustic guitars and drums could have come from albums that are 30 years old. Canons are hard to predict; when Rush were in their early-eighties heyday, reviewers derided their pioneering use of electronics in songs such as Tom Sawyer as faddish gimmickry. Yeah, synths in pop music, who would have thought that they would catch on? And used-record stores are littered with former critical darlings who have since fallen out of favour – you can hardly throw a beret in a thrift store without hitting a Rickie Lee Jones LP.
All that aside, it’s easy to imagine our grandkids getting lost in The Reminder or Metals the way we did with our parents’ copies of Harvest or Court and Spark; in fact, it’s harder to imagine them not cherishing these albums, and the ones that will follow, for decades to come. We know we shouldn’t throw around grandiose predictions, but in 2012, when that gentle alto voice drifts out of the speakers, it’s hard to resist. Why fight it?
Hits and misses at the Junos
*Groan: Michael Bublé won Album of the Year for his Christmas record, featuring such groundbreaking tunes as Santa Claus Is Coming to Town. Hey, at least it didn’t win for Songwriter of the Year. White Christmas tunesmith Irving Berlin is American; also, dead.
*Hard-touring rockers the Sheepdogs deserve each one of their three Junos, though we wish they hadn’t needed to win a Rolling Stone contest to get noticed at home. Maybe industry types should actually try discovering new bands again – at Canadian Music Fest in 2010, the band slayed Toronto’s Dakota Tavern, in front of a “crowd” of about five people.
*Has Dragonette’s moment finally arrived? The long-serving outfit, fronted by the winsome Martina Sorbara, won for Dance Recording of the Year for Hello, their catchy collaboration with French DJ Martin Solveig of which they performed too brief a snippet in the mega-mix portion of the show. Next time, Junos, give ’em their own slot.