Raised in the former Soviet Union, and the Bronx, New York City, Regina Spektor has always found creative and powerful ways to incorporate the eccentricity of her cultural roots into her music. She has combined her distinctive New York accent with verses sung in Russian, interludes inspired by the Hava Nagila, and literary allusions from William Shakespeare to Boris Pasternak to The Bible.
Yet with her latest release, Remember Us to Life, it appears that Regina’s American naturalisation has finally been completed; the record weeps superficiality and sickly-sweetness. At times it is closer to the soundtrack of a Disney film than an indie-pop album. The production is primarily to blame: the orchestral backing is over-sentimental and over-used, while the vocal recording is vapid and lacking Regina’s usual edge. Particularly heart-breaking is a contrast with the rawness of her earliest endeavours, the self-recorded Songs and 11:11, which threw into stark relief the pure virtuosity and creativity of this unique artist.
The song-writing itself is also disappointing at times. Spektor’s once poetic and startlingly original lyric-writing has become somewhat predictable and over-simplistic; her approach seems to be heading more towards pop and ballads. The catchy 2012 album, What We Saw from the Cheap Seats and her most renowned release of late, the Orange is the New Black theme-tune, ‘You’ve Got Time’ have both suggested the quirky artist’s transition to the mainstream.
‘The Trapper and the Furrier’ is the best song on the album: it is musically unorthodox, profound, and most reminiscent of Spektor’s earlier tracks. The gasping voice laments: “What a strange, strange world we live in…those who don’t have lose, those who got get given more”. A terrifying story of inequality and the dominance of corporations, it is punctuated with pounding piano bass notes and swirling, sinister strings. Yet even the more convincing tracks sound overproduced and lack spontaneity.
Give us Regina Spektor. Just her voice and her mind with a piano and a microphone. The disappointment of Remember Us to Life is really a testament to her talent. No matter how big the studio, how many musicians there are, how much money is poured in, true musical brilliance is always better in the rawness and roughness: it cannot be crafted.
Photo: Rock Cellar Magazine