Regina Spektor – What we Saw from the Cheap Seats – album review

Regina Spektor: What we Saw from the Cheap Seats (Sire Records)
CD / LP / DL
Available 29 May 2012

A disappointing effort from the former Queen of Kitsch yet still intriguing enough to elicit curiosity. Colin McCracken gives us his view on the latest Regina Spektor album What we Saw from the Cheap Seats.

It was with 2004’s ”ËœSoviet Kitsch’ that Spektor was catapulted into the public sphere with great force. Her quirky, reflective lyrics balanced alongside playful and investigative compositions made for a unique and enjoyable experience. Almost a decade later and not too much has changed within Regina’s music, so why does ”ËœWhat We Saw”¦’ leave the listener with very few of the aforementioned positive emotions upon completion?

There are several reasons for this. The first is that there is an overwhelming sense of fragmentation on display. Whilst a selection of individual tracks (”ËœDon’t Leave Me’ and ”ËœSmall Town Moon’ for example) offer glimpses into the sparkle and innovation of her earlier work, there is an arduous and slightly irritating feel to many others. ”ËœHow’, for example, is nothing short of sanctimonious AOR at its most radio friendly, inoffensive, navel-gazing best. ”ËœAll The Rowboats’ livens things up halfway through the album with a glimmer of darker and more creative production technique, but this enthusiasm is short lived as the subsequent tracks descend into contrived kookiness and pseudo comedic sound effects.

Times have changed since Regina Spektor first came on the scene. The cutsie-pie, cartoon existence of adorable ditziness combined with a childlike view of the world is altogether too prevalent in contemporary culture. You only have to log into Facebook for 3 minutes to see that a considerable amount of people in their mid-twenties are relishing the fact that they are throwing ice cream parties and hiring bouncy castles for their birthday. It’s nice to maintain a sense of childlike enthusiasm within what you do certainly, but it must be genuine and without any traces of fashionable irony.

There is just something that doesn’t quite fit about this album. It’s neither a carefree exposure of genuine character, nor is it a distant, lazy piece of work. It’s somewhere in between. It balances precariously between enjoyable and infuriating and even after multiple listens it still arises enough curiosity within me to give it just one more try.

It has its flaws, but it also has its merits. I would definitely not recommend approaching this album if you are unfamiliar with any of Spektor’s music (although given the ubiquity of her songs on mobile phone advertisements in 2007/8, this is unlikely). It pains me to say this, as it makes me sound like a walking cliché as well as a curmudgeon, but her earlier albums are head and shoulders above this rather languid effort.

All words by Colin McCracken. You can read more from Colin on LTW here, on his website or follow him on Twitter.

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