By Jessica Misener
June 30, 2009
Regina Spektor is like the Twitter version of Tori Amos. She captures the same endearing weirdness, but with more editing.
Although, even Tori never bleated out her best dolphin imitation in the middle of an otherwise normal song. I take it back.
Animal impressions or not, piano siren Spektor has big shoes to fill. The angsty, quirky girl-rock train has sputtered to an almost halt in these post-1995 days. Too late for the Alanis Morissette and Jewel era, Spektor first arrived on the mainstream music scene in 2006 with Begin to Hope, which spawned her biggest hit "Fidelity," known for the chorus that stretches the word "heart" into a brutal polysyllabic barrage. This summer she returns with Far, another curious album bursting with pianos and plucky poetics.
Far is the finished opus of four—count 'em, four!—producers, the likes of whom have worked with U2 and Eminem. But thankfully, hiring top-40 honchos hasn’t turned Spektor into an Auto-tuned and tarted-up pop darling; on the contrary, her songs here are just as gritty and esoteric as before, scratching every surface of the human condition.
The Moscow-born singer, who performs frequently at Jewish benefits and has defended Israel on her Myspace, explored biblical themes (see Hope’s “Samson”) in the past, and Far lets her rummage further into issues of spirituality and the soul. Most notably, Spektor deciphers “foxhole” theology on first single “Laughing With,” a poignant, sparse ballad: “No one's laughing at God when it's gotten real late and their kid's not back from that party yet/But God can be funny…when the crazies say He hates us.” It could come off as preachy, but Spektor’s elegant delivery and hint of tongue-in-cheek keep the song subtle and plaintive.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of Far is this prowess at making you uncomfortable. Spektor’s lyrics explore such topics as the depersonalizing effect of modern, computer-driven life (“Machine”) and a mentally troubled neighbor ("Genius Next Door"). Her brooding tale of the unraveling of post-creation Earth (“Blue Lips”) makes her wistful “Fidelity” look like “Boom Boom Pow.” But in this era of vapid rap music, we have ample room for a songwriter whose words are poetry, simultaneously visceral and dreamy but never quite settled.
But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for whimsy. “Dance Anthem of the 80s,” while not quite the “Safety Dance” the title would insinuate, pours out a playful ode to tipsy city love. On “Wallet,” Spektor finds a dropped Blockbuster card and muses about its owner. “The Calculation” and “Folding Chair”—the aforementioned dolphin ditty—are Feist-y, bubbly slices of pop fancy.
One thing Regina Spektor hasn’t done here is presented the world with great songwriting innovation. Too many of her songs smack of angst-soaked Fiona Apple; brooding Imogen Heap; Kate Bush and her quirky vowel pronunciation (see Spektor’s “Eet”). At times, she tiptoes close to saccharine, seemingly destined to provide the soundtrack to the next iPod commercial. But for the most part, the cuteness belies Spektor’s depth on this whimsical little album full of sinewy imagery and breezy piano. Far is the specter of greater things to come.
Read more of Jessica Misener’s writing at http://jessicamisener.webs.com.