Monday, April 23, 2012

Regina Spektor - What We Saw From the Cheap Seats

Regina Spektor’s music seems to thrive in two modes. One is her up-and-down emotional roller coaster, where minor chords meet major and the loud and quiet mesh haphazardly. First single “All the Rowboats” demonstrates this with verve, ominous piano tinkering cutting through hollow percussion all atop biting vocals. It’s edgy, it’s thrilling, and it reminds us of the force Spektor can bring through the 88 keys on her piano. “Open” drops poetic fireworks with couplets like, “potentially lovely, perpetually human,” sung with such conflict and pain that it hurts so good. These songs go so many places all at once, taking listeners on voyages that they could never travel without Spektor’s guidance.

Then there’s the carefree, whimsical side, where even the craftiest phrases feel easy and flippant. “You’re like a party somebody threw me/you taste like birthday/you look like new year,” she croons in “The Party.” These are the sort of compliments Spektor seems to stumble upon seamlessly, but that color her already-vivid songs. It makes you feel young again.

But it’s the in between that seem to sink through the cracks on What We Saw From the Cheap Seats. Several beautiful tunes make up the mid-album slump, including the classical piano ballad, “Firewood,” and the requisite break-up song, “How,” which treads a little too closely to Harry Nilsson’s “Without You.” “Ballad of a Politician” begins promisingly with cunning lyrics that cut down the fantasy of a successful politician, but it never really builds to anything. Chipper orchestral pop is demonstrated with sweeping strings in “Oh Marcello,” which references Nina Simone’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” multiple times.

What We Saw From the Cheap Seats finds Spektor treading some of her most complex material yet, while keeping it fresh and accessible for listeners. There is much here to be thankful for, but nothing as immediately thrilling as past pop gems. Still, whatever mood is captured -- whether airy or cutting -- her ear for gorgeous melodies never wavers.

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