Spektor offers polished pop sound, maintains her weird side
Published: Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 21:05
On Tuesday Regina Spektor, New York-by-way-of-Moscow’s anti-folk sweetheart, officially released her fourth major studio album, "What We Saw from the Cheap Seats."
First, I have to admit, I am a massive Regina Spektor fan. She sings and plays piano like an angel, and she can break your heart by spinning sometimes sweet, often bizarre tales with her lyrics. While that may leave me susceptible to narrow-minded praise in my review, since her 2009 album "Far" I have been worried she is losing some of her raw originality to appeal to a broader audience.
While she maintained her lyrical aptitude on "Far," there was a definite sound change from her early work such as albums "11:11" and "Soviet Kitsch." This difference was in part due to her collaboration with major music producers like Mike Elizondo, who has worked with Dr. Dre, Eminem and Garret "Jacknife" Lee, who has worked with R.E.M. and Weezer. Many were concerned Spektor was trying to cross over to mainstream music at the risk of losing her voice in the pop sound.
With the release of "What We Saw from the Cheap Seats," Spektor offers a continuation of the same polished pop sound, but she proves she’ll never lose her weird side.
The first track, "Small Town Moon" is one of the best on the album. It starts the album with a sweet sentiment to which anyone with big dreams can relate – even if it’s just leaving your hometown to enter the big world and opportunity of a collegiate campus. This track, along with "All the Rowboats," is sure to be a fan favorite. "All the Rowboats" is a fun, percussive song about either the dangers of creative dormancy or perhaps a crazed art fan who wants to rescue all of the artwork from museums.
The second track, "Oh, Marcello," shows off Spektor’s eccentric side as she dons an Italian accent for the verses, which are about a superstitious woman who has been told her baby will grow up to be a killer. I’m not sure if it’s funny or scary, but it is definitely beautiful.
Longtime fans of Spektor’s will probably recognize the album’s third track, "Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)" from her 2002 album "Songs." The old version features Spektor pounding away on her piano to this catchy tune. The new version has an added drum beat, but Spektor’s voice and the production sounds a little too polished and impersonal compared to the earlier version.
With the album’s fourth song, "Firewood," Spektor returns to the sadly sweet, piano-accompanied lyrics for which she is famous. For a songstress who has written about a mother of three dying of cancer, a quirky old man who adores the moon and the plight of Oedipus, this song, with its emphasis on music being essential to life, seems uncharacteristically personal.
The next song on the album, "Patron Saint," is a casual, playful song that tells the story of a modern girl. The patron saint of modern girls happens to be a heartbreaker disillusioned by her belief in true love – sounds like the result of our Disney-addled minds, no?
Breathtaking and deceptively simple, the album’s next track "How" has a blue-eyed soul feel and sounds a bit like something the Righteous Brothers would have performed. This track, along with the ninth track "Open" and the last track "Jessica," were the only disappointments on the album for me. They each employ overly simple melodies, which are great, but I expect more from the queen of quirk.
The album’s eighth track, "Ballad of a Politician," is clearly an outcry against the pretense and glad-handing of politicians since the advent of television broadcast. Essentially, Spektor is comparing politicians to whores, and though it’s been done before, the haunting and accusatory voice is a change for Spektor.
The album’s 10th track, "The Party," is quickly becoming one of my favorite melodies from Regina Spektor. It includes the lines, "You’re like a party somebody threw me/ You taste like birthday/ You look like New Years/ You’re like a big parade through town." And I’ve never heard a better compliment in a love song than that.
Despite the glossy sound of "What We Saw from the Cheap Seats," Spektor proves she can’t help but be herself. Sure, it isn’t the best Regina Spektor album, but she still offers more individuality and beauty than most of her contemporaries.
She proves to us that sometimes thought-provoking lyrics can accompany dance beats. Spektor can "pop" up her sound all she wants, but that doesn’t prevent her from taking musical chances and writing magnificently.
There are also three non-album tracks available for digital purchase: "Call Them Brothers," a duet written and performed with Jack Dishel of Only Son, "The Prayer of Francois Villon" and "Old Jacket," which are both cover songs performed in Russian.