Album Review: Regina Spektor ‘What We Saw from the Cheap Seats’
Many of the tracks on What We Saw From the Cheap Seats have already been heard by fans over the past ten years, but it probably wouldn’t be fair to call this album a b-side collection. Regina has completely reworked some of her older stuff, and those tunes which once existed as simple piano ditties have been given more complete arrangements for the studio treatment.
It may still be a kind of compilation though, rather than a true album experience. At least, if you are one who subscribes to the idea that albums are meant to be cohesive wholes. The songs don’t appear to have any kind of narrative flowing through them, and the mood of the record can shift in ways that make it seem disjointed. Regina Spektor outright refuses to talk about the specific meanings and inspirations behind her songs, and when she does answer these kinds of questions she tends to say something incomprehensible before giggling shyly and staring at her feet until the question goes away. We may never know.
The two leading singles for the album show a stark contrast. ‘Don’t Leave Me (Ne me quitte pas)’ is quintessential Regina Spektor, an upbeat ode to ordinary people and to New York City. On the other hand, ‘All the Rowboats’ takes on a darker tone, throwing her typical gaiety aside in favor of a thick and muddy arrangement. It’s a very interesting sound, but it feels pretty alone on the record, and most of the album’s other 10 tracks are predictably bouncy and playful.
‘Ballad of a Politician’ is another exception, and probably the most intriguing use of Regina’s vocal style. It becomes theatrical, rather than simply quirky. Listeners who are sometimes turned off by her excessive singing style may find that they finally get it here, or if not, maybe when they hear the intentionally too-loud gasping sounds of ‘Open’.
Any backlash against Regina Spektor over the years can likely be attributed not just to the fact that she writes extremely simple and often puerile lyrics, and sings them in under-medicated ways, but that she seems to take them incredibly seriously. She can even come across as a little bit preachy and condescending when she talks about her art. In the songs I referenced above I think the case is particularly well made for the unrestrained and unorthodox side of her, as in some places it really does have quite a strong impact.
In other places, I would simply say that Regina Spektor might make a fantastic children’s entertainer. It’s the charm of silly vocal flairs and ridiculously whimsical lyrics that attract many people to Regina Spektor, after all.
While What We Saw From the Cheap Seats isn’t a b-side collection, it is a record that people will probably feel they have heard before. For diehard fans this makes sense, if they have watched live performances on YouTube where some of these songs have been available for many years. For others though, the sense of familiarity with the sound of this record will come from the fact that it is ultimately quite predictable, but no less enjoyable.
Release Date: May 29, 2012
Image Courtesy of Sire/Wea