The Pop Maverick

The Pop Maverick

The good thing about Russia-born American musician Regina Spektor is her inability to produce a straight note

What we saw from the Cheap Seats

Regina Spektor,Sire

$11.99 (Amazon)

Rating: ****1/2

The good thing about Russia-born American musician Regina Spektor is her inability to produce a straight note. There have to be aberrations and her hyperbolic vocal apparatus to translate the grim realities of her songs into comical surrealism.

Starting her music career in 2001 with 11:11,Spektor’s success came with her 2004 album Soviet Kitsch,in which she displayed her prowess in hip-hop,folk,pop,jazz and (especially) classical. It was Begin to Hope (2006),however,that gained critical acclaim,and Spektor became a genre of her own — quirky,anti-popular,original and eccentric.

Her sixth album,What We Saw from the Cheap Seats,has no straightforward narrative or a common theme. The songs jump from one distorted emotion to another. Small town moon is a poignant beginning to the album. It starts as a piano ballad,with her haunting voice lamenting “How can I leave without hurting everyone who made me”,until,before you can realise,it breaks into short rhythmic beats,claps and rap-like lines such as “Everybody not so nice,nice”. The next piece,Oh Marcello,will take you by surprise,beginning with a peculiar Italian accent and brash lyrics like “Oh,Marcello/ How I wonder/ La Madonna she tell the truth/ She’s been saying I’ll have a baby/ When he grow up,he become a killer”. The song has her usual vocal gimmicks,like sudden high and low pitches,and beatbox sounds from her mouth,while borrowing lyrics from Nina Simone’s 1964 Don’t let me be misunderstood.


Then comes Don’t Leave me (Ne Me Quitte Pas),a sanguine number with calypso tunes chiming in the background. Firewood is like a love song on the piano,only that she’s crooning a grim message to “Rise from your cold hospital bed/You’re not dying”. The track list continues with the same brooding,soft tones. How,though,takes a jazzy turn,minus the vocal or instrumental quirks. It has Spektor taking the conventional path,singing “How can I forget your love?/ How can I never see you again?/ How can I ever know why some stay and others go?”

A sudden twist comes with All the rowboats in which an eerie piano builds up the momentum as Spektor passes through a museum,which sounds like a chaotic,even dismal,drill. The museums have become the “public mausoleums” where “the living dead fill every room/but the most special are the most lonely”,the synth-drums exploding and then fading away for effect.

What We Saw… is better than Spektor’s previous albums. The maverick has managed to have fun,create beautiful music and reach the next level of maturity and brilliance.