I’ve some sympathy with Paste Magazine’s review of Regina Spektor’s new album, Far. Her previous records have beguiled the listener with a directness of delivery, even on 2006’s poppier Begin To Hope. Pitchfork blame the failings of the current record on Spektor herself, but this has more to do with what Caroline Sullivan in The Guardian called the singer’s “polarising personality” than anything that is wrong with the record itself. There’s nothing on Far which would annoy had the listener found Soviet Kitsch a pleasant enough listen; if anything, Spektor’s vocal antics are here far less pronounced.
Take, for instance, ‘Eet’, the album’s second track and one singled out for criticism by Pitchfork’s anti-cute crusader. Yes, she warbles the vowels and emphasises the alveolar stop; but the breathiness of the vocals, and the manner in which they are sunk into the mix, succeeds in keeping them one remove from the listener, even as they climb into a piercing falsetto. Likewise, on ‘Machine’, Spektor’s affected rumble, bitten words forced out on an artificial basso, comes across as an economy version of the fierceness of ‘Apres Moi’ from Begin To Hope. Spektor is if anything less cutesy here – and perhaps that’s the problem.
It’s not that Far abandons Spektor’s skewiff perspectives – there are the usual lyrical twists, but in being less pronounced they somehow seem more absurd, not less. So the computer made from macaroni pieces in ‘The Calculation’, shorn of a context of eccentricity, just sounds daft; the mid-tempo torpour of ‘Wallet’ pushes that song towards parody rather than honest japery. ‘Disco Anthem of the 80s’ tries much to hard to sound like exactly that, when in truth it’s something more subversive. Undoubtedly this is the most subtly produced of all of Spektor’s albums – even the pseudo-radio friendliness of Begin To Hope had more wrinkles. There Spektor started off accessible and slowly led us towards dreams of orka whales and owls. Here, she daubs her toddler paintings on impressive canvas already framed in grand woods of classical design. The elements just don’t sit right together.
Part of the fun of Regina Spektor has always been that her songs are a bit stupid; that they don’t quite make sense to anyone but themselves. The production here is spot-on, and good fun to listen to on its own – but you can tell it doesn’t understand the songs any more than we do. To follow Pitchfork, Regina Spektor may well be the problem here, an acquired taste which requires special pleading or at least special settings; but Paste magazine’s remains the more subtle take: she’s also the only solution to the problem she’s set herself. Hopefully we won’t wait another three years for it.