Regina Spektor - Far
Shedding the 'anti-folk' tag with 2006's poppier album Begin to Hope, NYC's Russian piano princess Regina Spektor is back to continue her career progression into something akin to the female Ben Folds. I don't mean that in a derogatory sense; she's as talented as everyone's favourite piano-pop geek, it's just that this set of tracks sheds some more of the wilfully off-centre eccentricities of her earlier work but still manages to deliver in melodies and funnies. She's also not afraid to go all out with the ballads this time round - no wonder there's a song entitled Wallet, as Far sees the in-demand and increasingly prolific Jacknife Lee sharing production credits with David Kahne (Paul McCartney, The Strokes), Jeff Lynne (The Beatles, Tom Petty) and Mike Elizondo (Fiona Apple, 50 Cent). Despite the bigger budget, Regina's singular personality shines through and, while being frequently lavish, this sounds a lot less produced than Begin to Hope.
Picking up where that album left off, The Calculation is a ray of sunshine and a reintroduction to the original talent you sometimes forget to miss in between albums. The upbeat tone is something missing from a lot of the material here though, despite the majority of ballads being so full of life and optimism that they're rarely wearying. Eet sees her regular playfulness with pronunciation and vocal delivery transforming the word (?) 'eet' into a whole chorus, while Blue Lips' imagery of warring Gods colliding on a backdrop of blue is heavenly, despite its studio version's layers lacking the intimacy of a performance seen live on Jools back in May. The single Laughing With maintains the high standard of down-tempo songs, reinstating the sharp wit (the chorus might not go down well with the Christian crowd and, if not, they'll be missing the point entirely) of previous work on an album that frequently opts for a less soundbitey, but equally as striking, way with words.
So, instead of zingers like 'I can afford chemo like I can afford a limo' and 'someone next door is fucking to one of my songs', we have carefully crafted numbers like Genius Next Door, a mystical tale of an enchanted lake which goes a bit Danny Elfman toward the end, and the wonderful Human of the Year, which pauses an oddball word painting in time for Spektor to reclaim the crooning of 'Hallelujah' from Alexandra friggin' Burke. Fans of barmy tracks like Poor Little Rich Boy will rejoice in Dance Anthem of the '80s but, in not being afraid to piss off some of the 'cool set' fans she's claimed, Spektor has delivered a fully realised collection of songs that still emanate her trademark charm. I swear, One More Time With Feeling genuinely nearly had me skipping in a downpour earlier today. It's too bad then that the bonus track The Sword & the Pen ends proceedings on a depressingly anxious note but press 'stop' one song early, and you'll be left with a warm glow that Lenka's Show has a long way to go to top.
* This special edition features two bonus tracks and a bonus disc of four videos.