The first time I ever heard any mention of Regina Spektor was, like most of the general public, about three years ago. Begin to Hope had just been released and critics were calling her a sell-out for writing music that was “radio friendly” (there’s one for the Lectionary of Musical Invective). But I liked those trashy radio-friendly singles like “Fidelity” and “Better” as well as heartbreakers like “Lady Sing the Blues” and “Summer in the City” (both of which still tear me to shreds when I hear them). Of course, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know by now that I have no idea what I’m supposed to think (which is why certain magazines rewrite my reviews for me without my permission before publishing them). And so, like a great many of the mindless drones who fell in love with her music that autumn, I explored her back catalog and discovered the old Regina. I fell in love with her, too.
And now, about a bazillion MySpace pageviews later, Regina Spektor is back with a new album (her third or sixth, depending on whether you can count or not). There are a lot of things to like about Far, the new album, out on Tuesday. People who got all pissy over the Begin to Hope, will like that this leans more in the direction of her older albums on this record, while those who loved the last album will be happy to know that, while there is a lot to think about in this record, they don’t have to think about it unless they want to.
Regina Spektor, especially evident on her early records, is one of those songwriters like Neko Case who warrants and rewards repeated listening. Far finds Regina eschewing the more straightforward song structures of Begin to Hope in favor a denser texture and more pronounced narrative style. Take “Wallet”, for instance a cute, simple narrative about finding a wallet and searching for the owner (“I laid the contents of your wallet on the floor / and like a holy relic or a mystery novel / I thumbed them in the lamplight looking for a clue”). And then there’s “Genius Next Door”, a weird and moderately creepy (and consequently my favorite) tale about a supposedly enchanted lake and a genius with a secret (“The genius next door was bussing tables / wiping clean the ketchup bottle labels / getting high and mumbling German fables / didn’t care as long as he was able / to strip his clothes off by the dumpster at night while everyone was sleeping”).
Musically, Far is considerably more varied than Regina’s previous effort. At least some of that variation can be credited to the fact that she worked with four different producers on this record. Yet, though each song has its own distinct character, the differences never really mount to the point of distraction. Songs like “Blue Lips” and “Eet” feature heavier instrumentation than Regina’s older work, whereas “Folding Chair” is more reminiscent of the songs from the bonus disc edition of Begin to Hope. “Machine”, on the other hand, reflects a disturbingly sexy amalgam of Schubertian and electronic influences. Personally, I prefer the songs with a simpler texture, like “Laughing With” (which also happens to be a scathing indictment of the sort of people who have made my life miserable (“But God can be funny /…when the crazies say He hates us / And they get so red in the head you think they’re ‘bout to choke / God can be funny, /
When told he’ll give you money if you just pray the right way”).
Far is an album for everyone (read: normal people, pretentious people, and people who like music). For those who are interested, there are seemingly impenetrable narratives and issues of faith and relationships to be examined alongside varied instrumental textures and song structures. Those who don’t care about such things can just listen to the pretty melodies. There are plenty of those as well. Preview the full album at npr.org through the end of June.