Artist: Regina Spektor
Regina Spektor has been producing albums for eleven years now and her sixth, What We Saw From The Cheap Seats, is everything we’ve come to expect from her: a collection of honest, animated songs with a huge degree of sentimentality, composed with a stream-of-consciousness lyrical style and beautifully showcased by Spektor’s unbelievable voice, backed up by her skills as a pianist.
There is no doubting that Spektor is an incredibly talented woman but with What We Saw…, it slowly becomes evident that she hasn’t quite managed to pull together a cohesive collection of tracks for this record – it is all over the place. These are songs which she has been playing live over the last ten years brought to the studio, including a re-working of ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’ from 2002’s Songs in the form of ‘Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)’ so maybe that accounts for the somewhat haphazard track selection. Individually, the majority of the tracks are exquisite and arresting.
What lets this record down is an over-reliance on overdrawn ballads, which occasionally become too much when paired with Spektor’s quirky style. This is particularly obvious on the album’s penultimate track ‘The Party’ when she ramps up the whimsy to heights that even Zooey Deschanel would struggle to reach. This overbearing eccentricity is also found on the otherwise beautiful ‘Open’ where Spektor breaks out into deep, guttural gasps which are distracting and more than a little confusing, as is her Italian accent on ‘Oh Marcello’.
‘Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)’ presents a catchy, upbeat number, so long as you don’t pay too much attention to the lyrics. Classic Spektor, albeit with a slightly darker edge, is to be found in ‘How’ and ‘All the Rowboats’. The former is very reminiscent of tracks from Begin to Hope, and is stunning in its effortlessness and sentimentality, while the latter is similarly vintage Regina despite the electronic segments at the beginning and end of the track. Striking, haunting and almost hair-raising, it is probably the standout track on the album. In direct contrast, ‘Ballad of a Politician’, while it packs quite a punch as it considers corruption within those in power, feels very awkward and just doesn’t quite belong on this record.
What We Saw From the Cheap Seats is certainly darker than Spektor’s previous work, and it comes with a sense of maturity, but it isn’t quite her magnum opus. With the murkier tone, her quirks are all the more obvious, and could easily become obnoxious and tiresome. If you weren’t a huge fan of her whimsical nature before, it will be almost excruciating. However, beneath the gasps, accents and quirks lies what is probably her most deeply heartfelt work so far. With all those thorny songs about heartbreak littered with Spektor’s clever wisecracks, it is difficult not to fall a little in love with this album. Spektor may not gain any new fans with this, but it will certainly tide over the die-hards until her next release.