Release Date: May 29, 2012
Record label: Sire
Genre(s): Folk, Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Contemporary Singer/Songwriter, Alternative Singer/Songwriter, Anti-Folk
Spiking piano-driven songs of heartbreak with comic turns of phrase, cartoon voices and beatboxing outbursts, Regina Spektor has become her generation's Joni Mitchell – a singer-songwriter who nail-guns emotional truths between wisecracks. Her latest, even tighter and more flamboyant than 2009's Far, may be her best. Exhibit A: "Firewood," which treats mortal illness (a recurring theme for her) with elegant surrealism, imagining a piano used for kindling while boldly telling a comrade to "Rise from your cold hospital bed/I tell you, you're not dying." Elsewhere, "Ballad of a Politician" is sharp satire, instructing a handshaking officeholder to "Shake it, shake it, baby!" Even apparent novelty songs carry a payload.
From her stripped-down earlier work to her most recent material’s penchant for pop, it has been Spektor’s consistent personal touch that has drawn people to her music. What We Saw from the Cheap Seats sees her continue to march to the harmonies of her own piano. But much like Begin to Hope and Far, this record generally continues to juggle the same genres Spektor has inhabited up to this point.
Regina Spektor's sixth outing, the predictably unpredictable What We Saw from the Cheap Seats, feels a little like a Wes Anderson movie. By now, you're either on board with the Russian-American's unique blend of East Village anti-folk and immaculately detailed thespian indie pop, or you've swapped her wares for the more accessible quirkiness of Fun. or the lunchroom loner art pop of St.
Regina Spektor has come a mighty long way from the grotty East Village bars of the anti-folk scene at which she first started plying her hiccupping, jazz-garnished piano pop trade in at the start of the millennium. Yet even though her sixth album, ‘What We Saw From The Cheap Seats’, was recorded in the glossier surrounds of Los Angeles, on the cover she’s sporting a grandiose military-esque hat atop her ringlets, just like on her first major label record, 2004’s ‘Soviet Kitsch’. In another nod to her past she’s rehashed ‘Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)’ for this album, from 2002’s self-released ‘Songs’.
On each new album, Regina Spektor has suppressed more and more of the art-punk sensibility that made her early brand of cabaret-inspired pop so captivating. Accessibility isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but 2009’s middling Far simply lost too much of Spektor’s unique POV, and the singer-songwriter went from being an acquired taste to being flavorless. Thankfully, Spektor reverses course on What We Saw from the Cheap Seats, striking a carefully controlled balance between radio-ready pop and some bizarre, gleefully oddball flourishes.
Alt adorkability got this classically trained pianist to the dance, but it also keeps her from being queen of the pop prom. Two albums removed from her heavy-VH1-rotation hit ”Fidelity,” Spektor still lets her theater-kid id run free, with affected accents (”Oh Marcello”) and self-conscious heavy-breathing tricks (”Open”). Even if she’s not trying to date the quarterback, that doesn’t mean gorgeously ambling vignettes like ”Jessica” need irksome, cred-building quirks.
If there are two sides to Regina Spektor, you can classify this album as “Regina Classic”. That’s not necessarily to classify the other side of her music as “Regina Lite” or “Diet Regina”, but there is certainly more character in the classic flavor—despite how incredibly talented she’s proved to be on every one of her recordings. When we were first introduced to Ms.
"Someday you'll wake up and you'll feel a great pain/ And you'll miss every toy you ever owned. " Detractors of Regina Spektor's particular brand of clown-nose gutpunch pop will be delighted to know that this is an actual lyric from her new album, What We Saw From the Cheap Seats. Coming toward the middle of the sparse piano ballad "Firewood", the line is a handy embodiment of all the criticisms commonly lobbed at the 32-year-old's music: It's mawkish! It's puerile! It sounds like Peter Pan with a Tori Amos complex! And if you think all that's missing is some kind of quirky vocal affect, just hold out for the exaggerated, cartoonish gasps a few songs later.
Regina Spektor's sixth album (fourth for Sire) is a combination of new songs and older ones that have been in her live sets for a while but not recorded in a studio till now. That leaves the mixed bag of quirky, big-production piano pop and slower, intimate ballads without a strong concept, but it still works. Standout track All The Rowboats is different from the rest, an edgy minor-key attack on the collection and canonization of cultural artifacts, while world-poppy Don't Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas), with horns, marimbas, programming and backup vocals, is the busiest.
Indie boys and girls of the world beware; Regina Spektor has a new record out which takes a familiar aim straight for your heart. With her sweetly charming persona and darkly poignant take on piano pop, Spektor is very easy to fall in love with. For the more cynical, she’s perhaps equally easy to ….
Regina Spektor songs typically either leave you weeping in the fetal position or running for the door. The Russian-born NYC singer-songwriter just has that effect on people: She’s a skilled pianist with an undeniably beautiful voice, which soars through grand melodic patterns with the ease of an opera singer; her songs are heartfelt and colorful, filled with offbeat and affecting metaphors and quirky sonic detours. At her worst, she’s also pretentious and borderline excruciating, reveling in a particularly over-cute brand of seasick whimsy—one that treats every cracked vocal hiccup and silly accent like a theatrical debut.
Regina Spektor has always danced a fine line between engagingly eccentric and wincingly affected, her whimsical excesses redeemed by irresistible melodies. But her sixth album leaves you with a stronger impression than usual of being won over against your judgment. Patron Saint and Open are examples of the kind of richly upholstered chamber pop she does so beautifully, while Jessica is an elegant acoustic sketch.
Indie boys and girls of the world beware; Regina Spektor has a new record out which takes a familiar aim straight for your heart. With her sweetly charming persona and darkly poignant take on piano pop, Spektor is very easy to fall in love with. For the more cynical, she’s perhaps equally easy to dislike, but in her own isolated world where love is everlasting and businessmen strip off their suits to lick rocks, the voices of bitter naysayers can hardly be heard.
Recently asked how this album differed from her five previous studio releases, Regina Spektor said she had used more horns and layering, the inference being that she hasn't reinvented any wheels. And there's really no need: What We Saw from the Cheap Seats is rich in her own brand of creativity. If there's a gripe about this album, in fact, it's that there's so much to take in – she skips from Oh Marcello (a jaunty mix of Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, Edie Brickell's What I Am and a comic Italian accent) to Ballad of a Politician (a quietly gloomy, Russian-influenced ballad that eviscerates those who govern), to the single All the Rowboats (synth-drums explode as she complains about art being locked away in galleries: "Masterpieces serving maximum sentences/ It's their own fault for being timeless").
Sonic chameleon Regina Spektor is hard to predict. The only things her songs tend to have in common are their eclecticism and their emphasis on her piano and her voice. The latter in particular is impossible to overlook. Spektor has one of those capital-v Voices that sticks out no matter what genre, what song, what compilation you put them in.