“What We Saw from the Cheap Seats” – Regina Spektor

2 stars (out of 5)

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Product DetailsRegina Spektor’s sixth album opens with 2 tracks that solidly define Spektor’s signature style and sound so far and would not sound out of place as filler on any of her previous releases. “Oh Marcello” includes a comedy accent, piano and Regina human beat-boxing and “Small Town Moon” is steeped in sentimentality, those dramatic key changes she loves and an inescapable big chorus. Both also have a lyrical darkness that could be very easily overlooked given the optimistic, beaming performances; I initially misheard the chorus of  “Small Town Moon” to say ‘Everybody is so nice, nice’ when in fact it’s ‘Everybody not so nice’ and in “Oh Marcello” she speaks of a child who will grow up to be a murderer. And this darkness, which was much more apparent in her earlier releases and provided the necessary balance required when dealing with so much whimsy, is fading fast.

Only on two exhilarating tracks does Spektor excel in getting these ingredients precisely right. The first single “All The Rowboats” starts with a rubbery, techno synth line that develops into a staccato, pounding anthem about preserving beauty at the cost of  experiencing and sharing it and pushes Spektor’s musical style into dangerous and unexplored areas which are sadly never revisited again here.  “Open” is the one ballad, unsurprisingly there are several, that captures something of the melancholy and pure musicality of previous songs such as “Samson” from “Begin to Hope” or “Somedays” from the breakthrough album “Soviet Kitsch”. In the final chorus she repeatedly inhales dramatically as if suffocating and drowning, battling against the songs title which some still may find irritating in the extreme but this is what made Regina stand out from the crowd in the first place and when done as well as it is here is still affecting.

Elsewhere we have over-egged, rom-com ballads about getting old (definitely a theme here), Les Dawson piano and on a mercifully short track Regina doing an impersonation of a trumpet at a party called “The Party”. After the disappointment of Spektor’s previous album “Far” where all of the edges were rounded off completely (the cover portraying a cartoon Regina sitting at a piano that was made of clouds was not a good sign) this short, insubstantial follow up is barely a partial recovery and if she fails to fully rediscover her glint of fury then she’s on her way to becoming the soundtrack for American TV hospital drama’s new heroine.