Regina Spektor brings her usual mix of bouncy rhythms, occasional melancholy, and clever imagery to What We Saw From the Cheap Seats, the newest album from the Russian-American singer-songwriter.
“Small Town Moon” opens the album with quiet lamentations (“How can I leave without hurting everyone that made me?”), which then morph into a cheerful chorus driven by guitar and handclaps (“Stop! Stop, what’s the hurry?”). Spektor mixes heavy emotion with a lighthearted tune, weaving music and feelings in a way few others can.
“Oh Marcello” encompasses many of Spektor’s unique songwriting and vocal talents. It’s weird, almost impulsive in its stylistic changes, and features Spektor affecting an Italian accent and mimicking the beats of snare drums. Not only that, she yanks a line directly from Nina Simone’s “Don’t Let Me Be Understood” for inclusion in her chorus. It’s a bravely eccentric song.
Later in the album, “All the Rowboats” comes on sounding like classic Spektor, but slightly more polished. It’s dark, barely controlled chaos held together with piano, punctuated by sudden leans into sharp, unsettling chords. In “Firewood,” Spektor confronts one of her most visited themes—mortality—with a song filled with stark emotional honesty and raw hurt, but sung sweetly.
“Don't Leave Me (Ne me quitte pas)” is a harmless remake of a song from one of her early albums, Songs (2002). The original was spare, just Spektor’s voice over a repetitive piano rhythm. It felt like winter. On this album, however, percussion and brass support her instead, making it a brighter and more accessible song.
That song, in particular, is evidence of Spektor’s evolution from a jazz-inspired experimental singer into a more pop-oriented artist. But it’s not a bad change. All artists evolve. Thankfully, Spektor has managed to become more mainstream while also maintaining her roots and originality.
What We Saw From the Cheap Seats is out now on Sire Records. For more information about Regina Spektor, visit her official website.