Regina Spektor’s latest album confirms two things: 1) she is talented and 2) she is weird.
Unlike some female artists who play up their strange side for the cameras (I’m looking at you, Gaga), Spektor is a more subtle oddball whose career relies on actual talent rather than publicity stunts. Her newest album, What We Saw from the Cheap Seats, is intensely melodic and heartbreakingly lyrical, and it keeps Spektor’s characteristic quirk intact. Take, for example, “Oh Marcello,” the second (and probably the most eccentric) track on the CD. Spektor’s penchant for percussive vocals gives the song a playful flair as she imitates first the piano and then the bass with a style akin to beatboxing. The piece, which Spektor sings using a purposefully bad Italian accent, tells the story of a woman whose baby is going to grow up to become a killer. It is ridiculous and absurd. And it is fantastic.
Many of the songs on What We Saw from the Cheap Seats adopt the happy pop vibe of “Oh Marcello.” “Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas),” the third track on the CD, is a bubbly head-bopper that repeats the line “I love Paris in the rain!” while trumpets blast a joyful fanfare in the background. While the song verges on sickeningly sweet, Spektor sings it beautifully. One of the later tracks on the album, “The Party,” is a similarly cheery love ditty that provides a nice balance to the overly cutesy lyrics of “Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas).”
None of the songs are overly similar, though; each one tells a different story. “Firewood” and “How” are fraught with emotion, accompanied almost solely by piano, while “All the Rowboats” and “Ballad of a Politician” are dark and bitingly critical. “Open,” a romantic-style ballad that constantly toes the line between major and minor, features an unsettling gasping noise between each line of the last verse; the result is both haunting and powerful. “Small Town Moon,” the first track on the album, summarizes the underlying theme of What We Saw from the Cheap Seats with this line: “Today we’re younger than we’re ever gonna be.” Every track speaks to universal feelings of love or loss, hope or fear, nostalgia or optimism. These sentiments permeate the album, shaping a collection of musical vignettes that are refreshingly true-to-life without being cliché. Spektor does not need to travel in Lady Gaga’s giant egg to prove that she is unique; her music does that on its own.