What We Saw From The Cheap Seats
Artist: Regina Spektor
Genre: Pop(Warner Music)
Reviewer: ADRIAN YAP C.K.
BURSTING onto the scene at the skirt’s end of the Lilith Fair fever in the late 1990s, Russian Regina Ilyinichna Spektor managed to sneak a foot into the movement by virtue of being, well, different.
Fluent in Russian, able to read Hebrew and growing up on a musical diet that includes The Beatles and Queen, the Moscow-born lass was a burst of fresh air after nearly a decade of Americana dreariness from the likes of Sarah McLachlan and her ilk.
While a large portion of Lilith Fair artists traded on being comfortable with a sound that reminded them of home, Spektor was a musical vagabond that had little problem trading in her home for new adventures. Her albums were incredibly heterogeneous in nature, taking on a multitude of influences and putting them through her East-European anti-folk sifter to create a sound that was both childish and emotionally tumultuous at the same time.
But 2009’s Far changed the game somewhat, presenting a more tepid and consistent Regina Spektor, despite featuring the works of four producers. The people did not like what they heard, which is probably why she has chosen to lead this new record with Small Town Moon and Oh Marcello, two tracks that seem designed to showcase that musically neurotic side to her that people have come to love.
The former, in particular, stands out for starting out as a likable, mid-tempo folk ballad before exploding into a burst of discordant colour, gang vocals and hand-claps. It’s the kind of unexpected turn that her fans have come to expect from her.
Some would say that the worst thing a Regina Spektor track could be is “listenable but unmemorable”. While there are some apathetic cuts, such as the reggae-like Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas), Spektor has balanced those with some truly outrageous moments.
The monstrous noises on Open may seem like bad taste at first listen, but they keep you thinking about an otherwise predictable minor-chord ballad and the strange, almost comical chromatic piano riff that recurs during Patron Saint turns a gorgeous affecting ballad into something much more.
Cheap Seats may not be her best work (far from it), but it certainly tries to recapture some of the childlike wonder of her earlier material. It’s understandable that Spektor would want to explore adulthood themes in her music now that she’s pushed past 30, but she’s actually best when playing the irresponsible brat, flipping over her dinner plates and making a mess.