Release Date: Sep 30, 2016
Record label: Sire
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Review Summary: One hell of an indulgenceI’ve always found it fascinating the way your mind can so vividly match up a familiar sound with a particular time or place, especially in the case of music. Whether you’re revisiting an old favorite or expanding into uncharted territory, any individual song has the ability to conjure up potent mental imagery with little to no effort – it’s just the way the brain is wired. For me personally, Regina Spektor’s seventh full length will be a constant reminder of the surging power of the ocean, as well as its inescapable beauty and mystique.
Between getting married, releasing the biggest album of her career, having a child and providing songs for movies and TV shows, it's been a busy decade for Regina Spektor, and it doesn't seem like she's slowing down. After a four-year break, Spektor is back with Remember Us to Life her followup to What We Saw from the Cheap Seats, but her time away definitely hasn't hurt her writing.The singles on this album are definitely its most unique points. Tracks like "Bleeding Heart" and "Small Bill$" are pop-infused, catchy songs, with mixes of harmonies, dark sounds and some of Spektor's sharpest vocal hooks.
About 12 years ago, the hypnotic percussion introduction to “Poor Little Rich Boy” announced the arrival of a unique new voice to the masses. On Regina Spektor’s major label debut, Soviet Kitsch, her atypical song patterns and moving lyrics eschewed conventions of indie pop. Over time, Spektor’s unique sound became more poppy, more accessible — or maybe the rest of the world got a little weirder to match her.
It’s been over four years since we last heard from Regina Spektor, with You’ve Got Time, the theme to Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black TV show, being her sole recorded output in that time. It’s fair to say that particular song has introduced her to a whole new audience, who may be a bit bemused if they revisit her back catalogue – her older songs featuring, at times, sections sung in Latin or Russian, weird vocal tics and dips into hip-hop, classical music and folk. Listening to Remember Us To Life makes those days feel like a long time ago though.
Arriving within a few years of first-time stage musicals for adult alternative songwriters Sara Bareilles (Waitress) and Tori Amos (The Light Princess), Remember Us to Life makes Spektor seem a natural for such a project, especially with her ease at mixing charming ballads and flamboyant chamber pop here. (If "The Trapper and the Furrier" weren't an audition for a musical-theater assignment, it could have been.) Actually, prior to the release of WWSFTCS, she was reported to have been working on music for a stage adaptation of Sleeping Beauty. While Broadway fans wait, they and others who can embrace the album's occasional leaps in tone have another distinctly Spektor song set to enjoy.
Regina Spektor has her paradoxes. Besides singing the Orange Is the New Black theme song, she is known for her sweet love songs and her “quirky” mannerisms; yet here is a woman who is also not afraid to shout, “Mary Anne’s a bitch!” repeatedly in a chorus. After taking a sharp turn away from her lo-fi, irreverent beginnings with 2006’s light and flowery Begin to Hope, she did an interview with the A.V.
Nobel Prize precedent aside, this is not a particularly great time to be a pop singer-songwriter. Royalty pay is underneath the toilet for most songwriters for hire, and solo songwriters aren’t faring much better. What used to be, for better or worse, its own genre—a solo acoustic, piano or guitar, maybe some strings—is practically nonexistent in today’s market.
For die-hard fans, it has been four long years since the release of What We Saw from the Cheap Seats, Regina Spektor's sixth and most recent studio album. (Catchy as her intro to Orange is the New Black might be, it just doesn't fill the void that a new album from the Soviet-born singer/songwriter does.) Fortunately, she's back with Remember Us to Life, and right from the eminently catchy opening track, "Bleeding Heart," it's clear Spektor remains as versatile and open to experimentation as she is a talented lyricist. .
Since Regina Spektor's 2012 LP, What We Saw From the Cheap Seats, she has released the rocking theme song to Orange Is the New Black ("You've Got Time") and an impeccably phrased cover of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" – two moves that might suggest an eccentric artist pushing toward the mainstream. Her fifth album, full of brilliant songcraft per usual, performs a similar balancing act between the familiar and the far-out. Spektor's skill at storytelling compression remains stunning.
Regina Spektor is unpredictable. While her albums are always built on a foundation of classically-tinged piano and her own theatrical, booming voice, Spektor’s attempt to capture the unpredictability of everyday life has always veered wildly between melancholic and mawkish, adult and childish. In the past these swings have come thick and fast, and often in the middle of songs.
This latest album from queen of whimsy Regina Spektor is the first she’s written entirely in the same time period (previous albums being collections of songs she’s written throughout her career). So it seems odd at first that, on the surface, it’s also her least sonically coherent to date. Remember us to Life flits from electropop to piano ballad to strange grandiose quasi hip-hop and back to piano ballad - but maybe that’s because that’s how life is? You don’t go through a day thinking about a thing; it’s complex and uneven and all over the place.
Simply writing a pleasing song isn’t enough for Regina Spektor, who has always fashioned herself as a storyteller who happens to tell her stories through music. If she isn’t getting you wrapped up in some fascinating character or bewitching setting then she isn’t doing her job. With Remember Us To Life, the East-Village-by-way-of-Russia singer-songwriter largely succeeds, although she occasionally forgets that instrumentation can be just as essential to musical narrative as lyrics.