Review: Regina Spektor – What We Saw From the Cheap Seats (Deluxe Edition)
Published on July 24th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
“I wish you had not broke my camera” rues Regina Spektor on “Small Town Moon”, the opening track of her sixth album What We Saw From the Cheap Seats, providing as she does a near instant microcosm of all the humour, regret and childlike innocence that courses through every note and every playfully heartfelt lyric of this utterly charming LP.
“Today we’re younger than we’re ever going to be” Spektor goes on to repeat in the very same song, at once belying the suspicion that she could yet get younger still and heralding a sea change from fleet-fingered, piano-y peacefulness to blaring rock, then to clappy electro-clash-without-the electro…and back to light, poppy piano again. As an introduction on the whole, it brings to mind “Down on the Street Below” from The Divine Comedy‘s sublime 2010 LP Bang Goes the Knighthood, a similarly ivory-tinkling tour de force.
“Oh Marcello” sees Spektor deploy an impassioned Italian accent in its verse, declaring “I’m just a soul whose intentions are good / Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood” in its light ‘n’ lovely chorus, while her new version of “Don’t Leave Me [Ne Me Quitte Pas]” from 2002’s Songs applies a nice leaping melody to its ska-lite groove without striking as being particularly necessary.
“Firewood” is especially explicit in its desire to be a child again (“The piano is not firewood yet / But a heart can’t be helped and it gathers regret / Some day you’ll wake up and feel a great pain / And you’ll miss every toy / You’ve ever owned / You’ll want to go back”), swaying gently before taking on a strange classical grace that leads into the stately majesty of “Patron Saint” something splendid.
Theatrically imploring someone to “let go of her hand” lest a broken heart ensue, “Patron Saint” provides a compelling platform for Spektor’s innate way with phrasing and dynamics, not least on the melodic exploration of “true looooooooove…exists” in the songs classically inclined breakdown; meanwhile “How” is an instant classic, rising and fading majestically over its elegant triplets, and “All the Rowboats” features a “la la la la la” section that sounds an awful lot like The Shins’ “Saint Simon”, maintaining for the most part an ominously stomping intensity complemented by such conspiratorially delivered lines as “First there’s lights out then it’s lock up / Masterpieces serving maximum sentences / It’s their own fault for being timeless”.
“Ballad of a Politician” seethes “Shake what your mama gave you / You know that it won’t last / You’re gonna taste the GROUND real soon / You’re gonna taste the grass” with magnificent malevolence, coming across like Pulp’s “Eye Spy” filtered through Spektor’s slightly bonkers but richly melodic and totally inspired theatrics; “Open” then explodes into splendour, paving the way for “The Party” to propose a toast in song so warm, snuggly and wonderful that our heroine even feels inspired to try her hand at a fairly convincing mute trumpet impression towards the song’s end.
Closer “Jessica” clocks in at under two minutes , bringing the theme of ageing full circle with “It’s February again, we must get older / So wake up” (a cursory Google reveals her actual birthday to indeed be 7th February; does she have a twin?) and telling a bare-faced lie with “I can’t write a song for you / I’m out of melodies” seeing as owners of the albums deluxe edition are then treated to three bonus tracks: the mesmerising, spirited Only Son duet “Call Them Brothers” and stirring covers of two songs by Russian bard singer Bulat Okudzhava, “The Prayer of François Villon” and “Old Jacket”, each of which Spektor tackles in the Russian tongue of her heritage.
A very good album from a very good artist, overall. That may not be an adequately flowery conclusion, but What We Saw From the Cheap Seats is plenty expressive on its own.
Rocksucker says: Four and a Half Quails out of Five!