Has it really been six years since Begin To Hope came out and launched Regina Spektor‘s career into the stratosphere? I really liked that album when it came out, but after a while it became too much. Somehow a bunch of executives got together and decided to use her songs in every prime time soap, teen melodrama, and romantic comedy trailer. By late 2007 or early 2008, my interest in Spektor had waned to near zero. In 2009 she released the album Far, and I listened to it maybe three times before tossing it aside. It just didn’t catch me the way Begin did. Yesterday she released her newest album, What We Saw From The Cheap Seats. While I don’t love every song, she seems to be back on the right track.
The album starts strong with a couple really good songs. “Small Town Moon” starts off as you would assume, with a simple piano progression and Regina’s unique voice. She sings about trying to break free from her small town without hurting those who have built her up. She delivers the line “Today we’re younger than we’re ever gonna be.” After repeating it a third time, the song blows up with thick bass drum, frenzied electric guitar and handclaps while she sings about the harsh reality waiting in the big city. As soon as I heard the wailing of the guitar I knew this would be a different kind of album.
“Oh Marcello” is another solid track, but then things take a turn for the worse with a new version of “Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas).” It’s a song originally on her 2002 record Songs. I’m not sure why she decided to go back to the well on this one-and I definitely don’t know why she went with a more produced feel for the new version when the old “casio set to clamaphone 8-bit version” was just fine. Some people may think this is better, but I’m not one of them.
One of the biggest surprises on Cheap Seats is the song “How.” It sounds like a 90’s ballad that Mariah Carey or Celine Dion may have sung back in the day. It’s very odd hearing Spektor tackle a song like this. Not that she doesn’t have the voice to back it up, but it’s a strange choice given her usual style. She does put her own signature on it with her piano coming in and out. In the grand scheme of things it’s a pretty good song. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Carey or Dion song lyrics like this:
Time can come and take away the pain
But I just want my memories to remain
To see your face
To hear your voice
There’s not one moment I’d erase
You are a guest here now
The bottom half of the record holds up pretty well against the top. “Ballad Of A Politician” is one of my favorites on the whole record. It’s all about how a few run the world and how they get the power by putting on a show for voters. It’s almost like a version of “Masters Of War” for a new generation. Like Dylan, she’s biding her time until the old men in charge pass on (though she doesn’t word it quite as poetically or angrily as Bob).
Shake what your mama gave you
You know that it won’t last
You’re gonna taste the ground real soon
You’re gonna taste the grass
“The Party” and “Jessica” are both quality works that close out an ambitious and well-executed record. With the exception of a couple missteps I think this may end up being Spektor’s best work to date. I didn’t think that on my initial listen, but it grows with each spin.
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