Regina Spektor – Soviet Kitsch

Centuries ago, in a time I am happy not to be living in even though being rich back then would’ve been pretty sweet (it would now too), dying people were exhibited in wide-open drawing rooms for their final days alive. Family members brought food and tended to the patient’s needs, and stern men (who didn’t bathe very often) would congregate and discuss the gravity of the situation and help arrange personal and business affairs. The death room was a social place, and the dying person had a big role in the scene. He or she was expected and encouraged to put affairs in order, lament past mistakes, forgive enemies, plead for God’s mercy, etc.

Around 1850ish, the focus of death shifted from the dying person to the dying person’s family. Instead of the dying person dictating the circumstances of death, the family became the supported unit, the sufferers, the focal point. Death was considered primarily in terms of its effects upon the bereaved. Shortly after this shift, the tendency towards withholding the gravity of the situation from the dying became prevalent. The practice probably originated from a family’s desire to spare the dying person distress, but it also led to the practice of not discussing it at all.

Now, of course, the venue for dying is different; people are meant to go to hospitals to die, and medical practitioners, the warriors fighting to save lives are the centre of the event. Unfortunately, along with the idea of death as a matter of fact becoming more of a Final Destination-esque fight between Death and doctors, a lot of the ritualistic sadness and mourning has become a period of solitary, shameful mourning. Public sorrow doesn’t inspire pity; it inspires repugnance – it’s a sign of mental instability and bad manners. One only has the right to cry if nobody else can see or hear.

That’s neither entirely good or bad, but, like a lot of modern mannerisms (and I love the modern world), the focus is entirely on the wrong people. While it used to be on the dying (a good idea) and then the family of the dying (also a good idea), the focus of the scene, the link between the dying and the living is the physician. We can’t feel sorry for the physician, because dude deals with it every day, so now the people cared about most are not the dying, not the bereaved, but the dozens of random men and women in black clothing who feel more awkwardness than sadness. One has to be ashamed of breaking down even at a funeral so that they won’t feel even more like they’re in an episode of Frasier. The event is sterilized so they can walk in and out and get back to their jobs without missing a day of work. Afterward, showing emotion in public, even a day later is anti-social and shameful to protect the awkwardness-o-meters of people who weren’t involved at all.

Now, I’m not saying the bystanders and acquaintances shouldn’t be considered at all. It really sucks to be around someone crying when you’re not. It’s uncomfortable and uneasy, and uncalled-for outbursts should probably be looked down on. However, when someone bereaved at a funeral feels more shame than mourning (and believe me, that’s a fuckload of mourning) there’s a fucking problem, and the death system needs some sort of correction.

Good album, though.

There’s a significant amount of growth here in style and in substance. On the former, there’s a song-by-song change in emphasis instrumentally, from stick-tapping percussion (“Poor Little Rich Boy”, “Carbon Monoxide”) and a guitar-led rock song (“Your Honor”) to orchestras being present for most of the piano-led songs. It’s welcome, especially because it doesn’t sound overly pretentious. Carbs Mnox even has a little electric guitar backing shit up! In terms of context, it all gets more modern and accessible.

Fuck, let’s just say what I love: “Poor Little Rich Boy” combines chair tapping and dischordant piano playing to back up a great sarcastic tale on the song title, “Carbon Monoxide” is one of those kids these days numbers with quite a few great lines, “Us” is an absurdly great soaring song to play for your significant other beyond belief, “Sailor’s Song” really ties up the opening line “she will kiss you till lips bleed / but she will never take her dress off” with the chorus “cause Mary Ann’s a bitch! X 3” and it’s great to hear. The rest are less fantastic, but gosh, “Ode to Divorce” is honest, “The Flowers” sounds wonderfully off-kilter and Jewish, and “Somedays” is sad and reflective. Plus, there’s a quick quiet track of Regina’s whispering with her cuddly-sounding (really) little brother who’s named Bear, and it’s great for mix tapes.

“Chemo Limo” is way too long and bad, though. “Crispy, crispy Benjamin Franklin”? What the eff? What’s with the bridge of “Your Honor” being all lame and shit? A touchstone bohemian album and shit. You know the themes of the rest of the songs already, ass tootin’ listeners, but you won’t be let down by Regina’s personality. There’s only ten songs, so I haven’t let you down too much here.

8/10

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