Regina Spektor – What We Saw From The Cheap Seats

Obviously not much! j/k lolol

I think this is an outtakes album (finding out would require a whole Wikipediaing), and I hope so. It’s far, far better than the overly sincere garbage of the last album, but it only somewhat reclaims Spektor’s personality.

Here’s the deal with Regina: Thing is – Spektor is, despite her flailing with her identity, is great. ridiculous pop sensibility, voice with personality, still more creative than 90% of other singer/songwriters. That is, the recent flailing with identity are far from done. The cover of the album has her looking as hipsterish and alabaster as possible, which is weird, because she isn’t a 22 year-old recent graduate. Instead, she seems unsure about how to mature. The last album was a cohesively miserable exercise, but here, probably because it’s a compilation, she goes after quite a few directions, and some are definitely better than others. But when she’s on the right path – whee! Few others can do good-weird and citygazing-without-being-pretentious as well as she can.
Also, she’s still a pianoeuse, so there are few attempts to rock out, which is good, because she’s not good at that one. The other problem is that while quirkiness is good, the tendency to vocal tics can seem like an affectation at times. Plus she mangles two languages (Italian and French), and that’s on consecutive songs! Sounds extremely fluent in Russian, though.
Let’s have a looks at my song notes:

Small Town Moon – Nice piano song – but then becomes weird stadium rock thing with 80s drums and a hundred hands clapping.
Oh Marcello – actually kinda good switch between baroque spoken-word and a cover of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”
Ne Me Quitte Pas – Successful reimaging of her New-York-hipsterified version of Jaques Brel into pop songs, that works because it’s INTERESTING. Weirdly tuned pianos, unexpected horns that play a variant of the tune instead of just tooting’ around, memories of what a great lyric this song has.
Firewood – Boring winter-in-the-Northeast slow piano blah.
Patron Saint – About a guy who buys her a lot of expensive Tequila, nice half-waltz piano intro, but becomes part of the background soon enough.
How – Disgraceful slow schmaltz “romantic” crap with not an iota of personality. How did this song come to exist, and can I burn that reason? And hookless! Jesus god this is crap.
All The Rowboats – Seems self-conscious attempt to write a hit for fine arts majors. Blah about how great paintings in museums, but with this douchey suspenseful insistent tone that I can’t buy. If you’re going to say things like “God I pity the violins” you’d better be winking, not sounding like Jincy Willett.
Ballad of a Politician – Blah hookless bit about politicians being sad empty suits. You’ve gotta have a point, son.
Open – more soft slow hookless piano cheese.
The Party – An okay love song.
Jessica – Nice acoustic guitar song for a young girl….but still hookless.
CTB – Cool emo-ish acoustic guitar song, but eh.
TPoFV – See OJ
OJ – Hey, Russian! Nice enough, but what’s with all the Russian? Better that the first.

As you can no doubt see, I am a talented reviewer, and should be handed several jobs, instead of the zero I currently enjoy. From the notes you’ve no doubt gathered as well that while there’s little out-and-out failure, the most enjoyable song on here is a self-cover, and to that end I still like the original better. Why can’t people just age with grace? All you need is love and honest communication!

6 / 10

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Regina Spektor – Far

Hi folks! You know, I’ve never been a happy person, but I value lots of things in this world. Things make me happy. Things like my friends, my music collection, and scotch bonnet peppers. I also really like all of Regina Spektor’s earlier albums. I have lots of her songs on my computer and on my shelf. The problem, amigos, is that, with this album, being a fan of early Regina feels like being a fan of the Weimar Republic. This album blow. This album sucks. This album is an insult, and it should never have been made. Or it should have been made explicitly so we could all light it on fire and send it to hell. It’s not so bad it’s good. It’s just boring, and fails at being cute. Over and over. It’s not that it’s the worst album ever…It just sucks, and has no significant redeeming features, unless you really like listening to Regina’s voice and thinking “say, that voice could go well with some good songs!”
This second album has literally caused me to drink, so I’ll try to calm down enough to delineate what’s wrong here. Okay. Okay.
The best I can say for any song is that a lot of them are bouncy and poppy. It’s the most self-consciously “commercial” album, and yet it may well spell the end of her commercial success forever. It’s 100% fluff. There’s nothing insightful here at all, unless you count insight into Regina not being as cool and talented as you thought she was. There’s annoying bullshit everywhere, in nearly every song there’s something interminable, but in no song is there a saving grace. As the album goes on it only gets worse, though also sort of better, because the last few songs lapse into overproduced versions of the filler tracks from the last album. Only worse, because there’s still all sorts of irritating trills and at least it sounded like she was trying last time.
There isn’t a single good idea on the entire album. Here are some of the bad ones:
1)Overproducing every song to hell, so there isn’t a single moment of genuine songwriting left without cheesy fake drums and string sections for no reason. For the WHOLE ALBUM. But more specifically:
2)The needless rising bass trill to end “The Calculation” on a bad note.
3)Making “Eet” completely meaningless, and underlining this by making the entire chorus a repetition of a nonsense word.
4)AWFUL “underwater” noises to ruin the chorus of “Folding Chair,” and never recovering. Oh, also for writing and rehearsing and recording the line “don’t make frowns / you silly clown” What is that?
5)Having a stupid “Russian” “hooked into machine” chorus on “Machine,” with the stupidity emphasized by her adopting a stupid accent for most of the song.
6)Making lead single “Laughing With” actually be about how people laugh at God when things are going well, but when they go badly they turn to God. Yeah, bad people! Told you there are no atheists in foxholes, right? Got me pegged, Reggie! Whenever bad things happen to me I start praying, because really I’m a religious person in disguise, like every other person “laughing at God.” Zing, right? But it’s okay, because God has a sense of humour! Fuck you.
7)Drawing out every word in the first verse of “Dance Anthem of the 80s” for no discernable reason.
8)Also having an African-sounding guy saying “Solo!” during the instrumental break of same song. It’s the little things that portend a complete loss of competence.
9)Ending the album with a bunch of Jewel-esque songs that are the most tolerable ones here but would…eh, said that already.
10)Abruptly ending the insubstantial “Wallet” with a weird ascending vocal word.
Look, it’d be a lie to say I don’t have time for this, but I hate this. It’s so sad and upsetting. This is bad. Not Linkin Park bad or anything, just “I thought you were cool but you started dating a douchebag and you don’t see anything wrong with this” bad. I’m done here.

2/10

Regina Spektor – Begin To Hope

Album the fourth, and the second to be on a real label, and I guess Regina decided she was tired of playing house shows, because this one screams “HEY! This is a serious music album! Singing along is encouraged but no zany fun allowed!” This means a lot more serious songs about her emotions and practised notes. Basically, it’s a paradigm shift: she stops fucking around at the cost of getting sorta Lilith Fair.

The second piece of zaniness I notice immediately about this here album is that the first four songs are a big, obvious slab of Elton John level yelling of “play me! Play me play play me!” Three of the four are love songs with the main hooks being orchestral trills, the songs have drums, and bass and synths (suggested name for her live band: Reggie and the Full Spekt). The fourth is a slightly sped-up version of Songs’ tearjerker “Samson.” Not that these are bad songs, mind you. In fact, they’re four of the five best on the album. They’re loaded with originality, lovely lyrics, and those trills I mentioned are just great. “Fidelity” is the most chick-rock-ish but I, a strong, highly insecure man often listen to it and its message of finding someone after having “never loved nobody fully,” The build-up opening of “Better” still gets me every time, “Samson” is still as touching as a long finger, and “On the Radio” is a love song, yes, but it sounds like someone’s errant thoughts while lying on grass with their lover. So it’s not “I love so much,” but instead “This is how it works / You’re young until you’re not / You love until you don’t / You try until you can’t / You laugh until you cry / You cry until you laugh / And everyone must breath / Until their dying breath,” and only the start of the great lyrics. Any time the album comes on I immediately turn the volume way up and keep it that way for the first four songs.

However, to the shame of the many nations, the next seven songs are forgettable. “Field Below” is boring. I want to punch the little melody of “Hotel Song” in the face. “Lady” is about a jazz singer and has horns and I still can’t remember it after hearing it twenty times. The only good songs from this part of the album are “Edit,” which is catchy but fluff that ain’t got a speck on the five great songs on this album, and “That Time,” which sure gets stuck in my head and has some great lyrics, but I have a few beefs with it, vegetarianism notwithstanding: a) It’s really obviously this album’s “Your Honor,” being the one guitar-led song here, b) It’s way better until that awful “hey remember that time you Oded?” Gets way too serious for a song that already had enough poignancy for five songs in the line “Remember that time I tried to save that pigeon with a broken wing / A street cat got him and I had to bury pieces of his body in my building’s playground / I thought I was gonna be sick.”

Your reward for getting through that middle, if you’re still awake, is the fantastic “Summer in the City,” a song which starts with the line “Summer in the city / means cleavage, cleavage, cleavage,” somehow only gets better from there, and really has no weaknesses musically or lyrically. It’s a classic, and maybe Regina’s best song ever. Shame about the previous seven! Also, sometimes my brain imagines she’s singing “Samsung” instead of “Samson,” but never finishes the rest of the “commercial.” Also, judging from the cover, Regina’s funny lookin’.

7/10

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

Regina Spektor – Live at Bull Moose

Pink sunglasses! I want pink sunglasses! I am referencing the pink sunglasses Regina’s wearing on the cover of this EP. I’ve had a few pairs of them, but they have all met tragic ends. This quick (16 minute) EP featuring one (1) to-be album track and four (4) non-albumers recorded live at some New England indie record store. It’s more or less the same as the last album, just Regina and her piani (unless you count her tapping her foot during “Ain’t No Cover”), with audience noise at the end but no audience noise during the songs somehow. It almost sounds fake, but I wouldn’t want to equate Regina’s live EP with 9/11. Throwing dummies out of 80th floor windows! Tee-hee! What a stunt!

Hi! I’m Roland Barthes!
To give a text an author is to impose a limit on that text!
I obviously think I’m pretty smarthes!

Nah, that’s not going to work. “Carbon Monoxide,” the sole album track on this EP, is sadly underdeveloped, not yet the waltzy goodtime downer it will become, but it’s still a solid slice of urban bitterness. “Pound of Flesh” references Ezra Pound (get it?) and is a solid tap-tapper, while “The Noise” is a kinda boring classical-ish bit. The EP’s also bookended with blues-influenced a capella love songs. “My Man” is the better one because

“Mirror mirror on the wall / Tell me where the bombs will fall”? That’s a TERRIBLE line!

6/10

Regina Spektor – Songs

Vegina (Hee!) Spektor  is back with a new album, and now she’s fired her electric drummer, who apparently went and committed suicide like in that incredibly terrifying new GM commercial I now see when I watch Fox News, which is every day. Have you saw it? It features robot workers building cars, then one drops a part, and in the next scene it’s jumping off a bridge. Haha! Ha ha? So the implication is that workers are going to be replaced by robots? Or are effectively robots? Or that they kill themselves when they get fired? Which is funny because some do? What?

Anyway, ReSpekt, to quote her website, is back with a new album, and it features only Regina’s likable voice and somewhat less inspiring (but still inspiring) piani playing. The variety is gone, but she’s focusing on what she’s better at now, and that’s overall a positive thing. Hey, vegan worchestershire sauce is terrible by itself, but good in recipes. The first paragraph above was written back in ought seven, and this paragraph used to be pining for Regina, now redacted, and a story about how I once kissed a man in drag, which is a true story from my days of drugs and grief.

Here are my song notes:

Samson – wonderful tearjerker – great lyrics – except for fucking wonderbread (editor’s note: an earlier, slower, sadder version of the song that later showed up on “Begin To Hope” and your ex-boyfriend’s Facebook wall you clever girl you).
Oedipus – Beautiful “thirty-two-AH” (not like Metallica though) – the play from oedipus’ perspective-woo! – Great “Oedipus x 4” hook.
Prisoner – A little nondescript, nonhooky – “yo mamma was heee-uh” – annoying idiosyncracies – my momma thinks i’m grown but i’m really just little” – still a heartfelt moment even in this fairly throwawayish song!
Reading Time With Pickle – again nonhooky – greatly analyses pickles – hee! – ingredient list = lyric
Consequence of Sounds – This album’s “Pavlov’s Daughter” but with no annoying beatbox, and
reliably good lyrics – haha, ani difranco! – “cubicle” line canceled out by “hippie shit” line – jerky, catchy piano melody and eggslant “ahhh” bit.
Daniel Cowman – a man sentenced to death reflecting in his last moments on earth about bathing and advice a heroin addict gave him.
Bon Idee – “Don’t tell your secrets to anyone Because ideas are vulnerable As soon as you say your idea out loud Then it can go and live on its ow And you will miss it oh so much And you will wait for it’s return And you will wish it were your own But ideas that left never come back home” – voice melds with boring melody so fucking well! – anti-expression! – my computer is convinced it’s 18:59 long – all vocal hook
aching to pupate – “Grifeichadam on 03-19-2006 @ 03:51:22 PM Obviously it’s a sad story about an ugly hooker. ” (Editor’s note: The above is a guy on songmeanings.net “interpretation” of this song. It’s the first comment and so out of nowhere that I found it hilarious) – interesting vocal tricks, but like most of her vocal tricks, less
interesting than her actual “making songs good” – nostalgia for 17-year old girl-hood – A capella
Lounge – even the boring songs have something great to them! – slow-paced, but great lyrics agaaaain
Lacrimosa – Nah, nothing really going on here, but still some good words about how the
dead stay dead, and dr. icarus the cliche monster
Lulliby – Nice little lovelorn NYC paean, very sleep-inducing
Ne Me Quitte Pas – Catchy mcvocal hook city –

constant discontent without being whiny – fantasmic tone- only vocals and piani and all produced the same because Regina was still poor. – story idea: hipster ordering a drink and falling to his doom – everything’s great except for her vocal “ticks” which pop up a lot even if it’s

With that stellar journalism out of the way, I’ll just say that it’s quite worth it, and makes the albums you know and love make more sense without being a waste of time in itself. As soon as you hear “Samson” you know that she’s not a young curiosity anymore (as she must have been in the 11:11 days). It shows an artist trying 80% to make a “real” album and only partially cutting it with oddness. I feel like she wanted to enter the real world of musicians but knew she didn’t quite have the album together yet and didn’t want to betray her scene, but she knew that she had the songs and talent and work ethic most aspiring musicians (and writers, haha!) lack. Also, next time she’d be nice enough not to have the two best songs at the start.

Also, have I not mentioned how beautiful her voice is? It’s pretty much the whole greatest!

7/10

Regina Spektor – 11:11

Back in April 2007 I made this great joke. Let me reprint it: “Hey, I’ll give you five dollars to add Barack Obama on Facebook and post a comment saying “God doesn’t want us to elect black people.” Come on! It’s free money! But really, how about them black people? It reminds me of this time I walked through the South Bronx at night on principle and nothing happened because it’s not like they want to cause any trouble; don’t bother anyone and odds are they won’t bother you, even in a bad area of a big city.” Okay, it isn’t a joke, and it isn’t great, and it’s out of date and stupid, but at least I was prescient about who would become an important political figure, and I don’t see you holding him accountable for being a company man who takes his left wing base for granted while reacting badly to the far right’s legion of absurd character assassinations, which is precisely what my little joke does do, so about running along and maybe we’ll all win the lottery.

Speaking of New York (link), Regina Spektor is from there, and this goes to prove that people from cities are better than people who aren’t. It’s piano-led pop music with jazz influences and lyrics that read like she has a good reason to get up in the morning when she’s not being overly cutesy. There’s a healthy dose of standup bass, too, even leading a couple songs, including the excellent “Rejazz.” Regina sounds like a bohemian Ani DiFranco without the self-important rage raging against the dying of the light, though she would become more singular later on. Slightly lost but smarter than you and you want to hang out with her after the show even if she does over-emote at times. I get the urge while listening to use the adjective “classical,” but I don’t feel justified using that about any particular songs. Alternately, it sounds a bit like Amy Winehouse might have sounded had she been cool, bohemian, and antifolk instead of an insane sellout.

There aren’t fantastic musical hooks – she was 21, four years younger than me for fuck’s sakes – when she made this, and I’m deeply in admiration of her ability to complete something artistic at that age…She doesn’t have the lyrical immaturity that marks a lot of other young artists, though there is some knee-jerk tee-hee “humour” that might bother you if you’re thoughtful.  Wacky nadirs include:

The inexcusable “her do[w]g DEE OH DOUBLEYOU GEE” in “Back of a Truck.” Why did you spell “dog” this way, Regina? And why be so proud of your misspelling that you then spell it out letter by letter? ]
“Flyin” sounds like something a 17-year old hippie girl might write after getting back from tree planting for the summer.
“Wasteside” is overly cloying and has no hooks.
“Pavlov’s Daughter” is a great chorus trapped inside eight minutes of a weird drum machine, annoying beat-boxing, and embarrassing quasi-rap.
“Braille,” on top of having an odd, not very good Maritime folk-style melody, tries twice to romanticize “cold, cold Campbell’s from the can” and THAT’S NOT POIGNANT.
Completely spoken word “I Want To Sing” is actually really sweet! Which is a nadir for this list, innit? Here I’m presuming a list of poor song moments would prefer to remain as much.

Actually, know what? It’s hardly fair to call this album piano-led at all! Only like half the songs are! It has more variety than I gave it credit for, even if she would later realize that piano was what she was best at. I know I could fix what I just wrote, but I’m mostly writing these reviews to avoid writing more serious, stressful things. But you know. This one’s not generally available and she’d do much better, but the restlessness and creativity in these growing pains are indicative of the lovely piano she’d become.

6/10