Regina Spektor has always been an artist who has toed the line between effortless easy listening and so quirky that it is a little off putting. Similarly it’s a matter of personal opinion whether her whimsy is charming or annoying. ‘What We Saw From The Cheap Seats’ finds Spektor in her element – all of her kookiness is on show and each track showcases a different theme.
The first two tracks on the album are a little bit all over the place. In ‘Marcello’, Spektor jumps between her Italian accent to singing The Animals’ line, “I’m just a soul whose intentions are good, please don’t let me be misunderstood”. ‘Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitter Pas)’ has been rerecorded from her earlier album Songs, changing the original bopping piano to computer generated beats and trumpets, adding to the theatricality but losing the simple elegance.
Whatever else about Spektor, she is admirable for taking risks. In ‘Ballad of a Politician’ she compares politicians to starlets and whores. “Shake what your mama gave you… shake your ass out in the street.” In ‘Open’ she gasps as if coming back from death in between lines. The opener ‘Small Town Moon’ hops between piano and rocking guitar in a way that almost leaves you almost suffering from whiplash. There is nothing formulaic in the way this album was made.
Beyond the quirks, you get some truly resonant songs. ‘Firewood’ is jazzy and nostalgic. ‘How’ is the standout ballad which goes back to Spektor’s cabaret roots as she beautifully and sadly sings “how can I try to love someone new, someone who isn’t you?”.
In the same way that the lyrics of ‘Firewood’ and ‘Jessica’ are overtly wistful, this album is more reminiscent of her standout Begin To Hope than her more recent Far, blending pop beats with unique twists. Some of the risks come out more of the side of weird than interesting but What We Saw From The Cheap Seats is definitely full of personality and stands out from other albums.
In A Nutshell: Different and unique while retaining elements of vintage Spektor. May not be everyone’s cup of tea.
by Elizabeth O’Malley