Review Summary: What we saw from the cheap seats was Regina Spektor release another album. What we heard was her best effort yet.
Regina Spektor has become the standard by which all cute, quirky pop songstresses are measured. The way that her breakthrough album, Soviet Kitsch
, raised the bar for singer/songwriters everywhere typifies her ambition. She is never willing to settle for the ordinary, and whether it is through her outlandish lyrics, bizarre vocal inflections, or unexpected tempo shifts, she has always managed to keep listeners guessing. Even when she vied for a wider audience with the mass-appealing Far
, she retained most of the eccentricities that afforded her that opportunity to begin with. That loyalty to her sound, combined with an unruly appetite for the peculiar, has built quite an empire. It’s no surprise really, as she is one of the most endearing performers around on record or
on stage. Fans have had the pleasure of witnessing her improve on every single album, as she gradually incorporated new elements through careful deliberation and fervent experimentation until it seemed that she exhausted everything within that vast arsenal of hers. But as I mentioned before, Regina is a musician who is never content to sit still. In part, that is why What We Saw From The Cheap Seats
is a downright scary album. An artist who could already seemingly do no wrong went and became even more
An admirable defense for this album’s brilliance could be made out of one song. Dancing elegantly amid a gentle ebb and flow of classical piano notes, Spektor’s voice soars to pristine heights and unimaginable levels of beauty in ‘Firewood.’ It isn’t as bubbly as some of her quirk-filled, carefree works, but it could easily fall under the category of perfect pop. Never before has Spektor’s voice sounded so rich, so full…and one would be hard pressed not to be moved by the song’s meaning, because the music transcends its lyrics so well. “The piano is not firewood yet…you’re not dying” marks one of the most inspiring things that she has ever put on paper, while backed by exquisite piano passages that allow the metaphor to ring aloud with effortless clarity. Seize the day, as not to regret what you left unfinished tomorrow. It’s a familiar proverb, but Regina puts a unique spin on it that makes it seem profoundly enlightening. After tumbling gently through waves of graceful piano notes, she wraps everything up with a simple, “everyone knows you’re going to love, though there’s still no cure for the crying.” It’s almost as if she’s unaware of the depth behind her every word.
When Spektor isn’t penning humble and poignant ballads, she is going about business as usual. That is to say, she is still so odd and unpredictable that we don’t really know what to expect at all. One prime example would be the drastic, breathy inhales of ‘Open’, which would be laughable if they weren’t so frightening. There is a creepy air about the song that seems like a fitting follow-up to ‘Ballad of a Politician’, a scathing indictment of an unnamed government figure in which she fiercely proclaims, “but I am / but I am / but I am not a number not a name…you’re gonna taste the ground real soon, you’re gonna taste the grass.” The determination with which she sings those repeated but I am
’s is enough to induce chills, and maybe even make you look over your shoulder to make sure you’re not the one that she’s after. Just when you think Regina Spektor might be a vigilante in disguise, she pulls out a cute little number in ‘The Party’, which includes the line “you taste like birthday, you look like new year” and subsequently sees her create a dramatic outro by buzzing her own lips to imitate a French horn. Maybe she’s cute, maybe she’s a little unstable…but she is unquestionably entertaining no matter how you look at it.
The album wraps itself up in a quaint, modest fashion with the acoustic ‘Jessica’, a song that beckons for a step into maturity: “Jessica wake up…we must get older now, so please wake up.” Since she already covered everything from pop perfection to political corruption, it seems only fitting that the curtain would be drawn with yet another varying musical style. The songs on What We Saw From The Cheap Seats
all retain their own identity, while simultaneously coalescing into something much more meaningful as a whole. Spektor has always been one to tell you exactly what’s on her mind, and on What We Saw From The Cheap Seats
, she isn’t really soul searching because she has already found herself. It’s more like she is professing each song to you…telling you how it is, not what it seems to be. There’s a sense of power that comes with enlightenment, and here Regina touches on profound topics with a startling sense of conviction. That’s the kind of voice that can have a huge impact on anyone’s life - but for Spektor, that’s just the norm lately.