Regina Spektor – What We Saw From the Cheap Seats (Music Review)

What We Saw From the Cheap Seats cover

Regina Spektor – What We Saw From the Cheap Seats

Regina Spektor has a strange position in the indie pop scene. Wildly experimental, but also seriously sentimental and unironic, these two sides sometimes collide unexpectedly. When she tried to promote her previous album with “Laughing With”, for example, fans expecting a clever deconstruction of life reacted like it was an especially bad email forward from their mothers. What We Saw From the Cheap Seats doesn’t have anything that extreme, but Spektor continues to flit happily around the whole spectrum. There’s no sign that she sees a difference between the straightforward ballad of “How” (a heart-on-her-sleeve elegy for a relationship) and the flights of fancy in “All the Rowboats” (anthropomorphizing items in a museum). The Manic Pixie Dream Girl of experimental pop, she seems to find meaning in a creative worldview that others see as a strict contradiction.

In Cheap Seats, Spektor seems more settled in to her role than ever. No longer trying the chaotic variety of tricks she used in Soviet Kitsch, but also without the pop stardom attempts of Begin To Hope, she just sings the songs she wants. Her music is becoming consistently good, but I miss the misfires that used to go along with her biggest successes. Hopefully something pushes her out of her comfort zone soon.

In the meantime, it’s hard to complain about the work she’s delivering, A couple songs err on the overly-sincere side (“Ballad of a Politician” has nothing new to say about its subject matter), and there are just a couple flights of experimentation: “Oh Marcello” is full of quick-spoken lines about a woman whose fortune teller warned her that her son would grow up to be a killer, but with a slow, heartfelt chorus lifted directly from “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”. With Biblical references and a little beatboxing mixed in, it creates an unexpectedly beautiful patchwork.

Almost all the songs fall solidly between those, though: Piano-based with electronic accompaniment and clear production, they rely mainly on Spektor’s classical background and beautiful voice to communicate her worldview in quirky ways. She sings about “the pain of knowing that true love exists” and muses on a piano’s suitability as firewood during a song about mortality. Not for the first time, one of the album’s strongest tracks (“Ne Me Quitte Pas” in this case) is a reworking of one of her songs from her early days.

The open-eyed sentimentality and unique styles make Spektor as fascinating as she is divisive. I’m one of the people who likes her, so much so that I expect to keep enjoying her albums even if she continues her slow movement away from the styles I like the most.

Grade: B

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