Regina Spektor - Begin to Hope
Gemma Hayes, Nerina Pallot, KT Tunstall...pfft! None of the above, despite possessing some semblance of musical talent, can hold a candle to Russian-born NYC piano princess Regina Spektor. Her last album Mary Ann Meets the Gravediggers and Other Short Stories was a collection of songs from her previous three albums, only one of which (the brilliant Soviet Kitsch) was a major label release. Over time, she has built up a loyal and devoted fanbase and some have been pretty vocal about this, Begin to Hope, her fifth release and what is said to be her most 'commercial' to date. Too over-produced? Her trademark piano lost in the mix? Her kooky and left-of-centre approach oppressed in favour of something more acceptable to the mainstream? All I can say is one big 'shush' to the whingers. While there is undoubtedly a more radio-friendly edge to certain songs, the balance between this and her own brand of skewered songwriting is upheld. There's no need to fear, Regina is here.
Part of Spektor's charm is her ability to paint in broad musical strokes, and all with her piano. For example, on the beautiful ballad Field Below, the piano sounds like it could have been lifted from one of Norah Jones' best numbers, while the closest reference point for Apres Moi is the work of the classical pianists/composers (Bach, Chopin, etc.) she lists as her primary influences. However, whilst piano is still front and centre on Begin to Hope, more instrumention is being incorporated here than on her previous outings. Note the trumpet that creeps in and out of the bluesy Lady, and the guitar on Better courtesy of The Strokes' very own Nick Valensi. This latter song is just one of a handful that sound a lot more produced than her previous work - that is, the sound is somewhat more synthetic and it's not just Regina and her keys. However, she proves she can pull off less kooky fare whilst still retaining her own unique lyrical and tonal styles - Fidelity and On the Radio are two of the best 'pop' songs you might never hear. Ultimately, the only real disappointment is Edit which, despite blending electro beats with piano in such a way that it sounds like it would have been at home on Fiona Apple's When the Pawn album, doesn't really go anywhere.
Another big selling point is her voice, and this review would be ignorant in skipping past this part of the package. It may not be to everyone's taste but, as with Tori Amos, her voice is as much an instrument as her piano. It is delicate in all the right places on Samson, a Regina classic and one of my all-time favourite love songs, but then delves into a bluesy husk when it needs to. On the likes of Hotel Song and That Time, it is more playful and even conversational, fitting in with the ultimately lightweight but fun feel of those songs. Lyrics can also flit between being something quirky and witty (killer lines like 'Hey, remember that time when you OD'ed?/Hey, remember that other time when you OD'ed for the second time?' crop up regularly) to being something more enigmatic and even unsettling, Summer in the City dedicating an entire verse to the anger and impotence of men who have been castrated.
It is this willingness to experiment and play with the conventions of songwriting that may have led to Spektor being termed 'anti-folk'. However, I don't care for labels. Regina is Regina. For all those worried by the small amount of backlash that has greeted this album, please don't listen - this is easily going to be one of the best albums from a singer/songwriter this year. If you choose to buy the special edition, you'll even get a bonus EP she's chucked in as a treat, including the catchy yet critical Uh-merica amongst the five tracks on offer. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the lady in question, this is a great starting point. I implore you to listen and be amazed, entertained, enthralled. And maybe even more...
Last updated: 19/04/2018 04:54:25