Regina Spektor – What We Saw From the Cheap Seats
by Erica Moser (Journalism), published June 1st 2012
Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!
Average albums tend to be compilations of average songs. Yet, Regina Spektor’s sixth studio album, What We Saw From the Cheap Seats, is an average album because it comprises tracks that are either beautiful or cringe worthy. With previous albums, some praised her quirkiness while others condemned the 32-year-old’s childish and trite lyrics. The problem with being considered “quirky” is that it is growing more transparent as a guise for lack of originality – transparent enough to warrant the trope “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” in the cinematic realm. Anyone can make weird noises, tell offbeat stories and be “awkward” to fit the role of the quirky girl. But it grows old.
Therefore, at this point, Spektor is at her best when she is being serious. “Firewood” is a poignant reflection on life, death and the passage of time. “Some day you’ll wake up and you’ll feel a great pain, then you’ll miss every toy you’ve ever owned,” she sings. “You’ll want to go back. You’ll wish you were small. Nothing can solve your crying. You’ll take your clock off your wall and you’ll wish that it was lying.” It’s a heartbreakingly relatable commentary, set to music with the cadence of a wedding dance song and elements of classical piano.
“All the Rowboats” is another excellent track, opening with an electronic riff and thunder-like drum crashes before seguing into a dark, edgy, almost haunting melody. As for her lighter songs, Spektor does put her eccentricities to good use on “Ballad of a Politician,” mocking a politician by instructing him to “shake it, shake it, baby! Shake your ass out in the street.” These three songs, along with “Don’t Leave Me” and “Jessica,” would make a solid EP, but Spektor brings down the quality of the album with other tracks.
The sappiness and corniness on “How” is nearly nauseating. It begins with an orchestration reminiscent of Vitamin C’s “Graduation (Friends Forever)” – an ominous sign – and continues on with cliché lyrics about heartbreak. Spektor exacerbates this with a vocal style and heavy piano notes that are too grandiose for such unoriginal lyrics. This is a serious track, so I suppose my aforementioned rule has its exceptions.
Spektor continues her triteness in metaphors and similes on other tracks. She has a habit of repeating commonplace lyrics, such as “let go of her hand” and “I love Paris in the rain.” She also has a habit of adding wacky vocal flourishes, such as a “wooo!” or gasp for air or mock trumpet solo. These often ruin her beautiful piano parts and make her songs sound scattered. Her greatest downfall is trying to be silly and serious in the same song, making it inconclusive and confusing. While Spektor is a powerhouse of raw talent, her kitsch can make her lose steam.
Recommended Tracks: All the Rowboats, Firewood, Don’t Leave Me