Regina Spektor — “What We Saw From the Cheap Seats”

Blooming Spektor
By Eric Webb

A brief, inarguable list of the best things from or tangentially related to Russia:

x

x

5. Laika

4. Vodka tonics

3. Glasnost

2. Zangief from Street Fighter

1. Regina Spektor

Born in Russia and transplanted to New York as a kid, Miss Spektor is a force of nature. There is no point in denying this. I’ve been hooked since she was just a VH1 Artist You Oughta Know; I played “Fidelity” and “Us” on loop in the ice cream shop I worked at in college; at 18, I listened to “Samson” in the car late at night, engrossed. How do you draw up a comparison to describe her? She’s virtuosic on the piano, her voice glides effortlessly from “sweet pixie” to “sonic equivalent of Ivan Drago” to “onomatopoeia,” and her lyrics contain breathtaking storytelling. In live shows, she often uses a wooden chair as a drum. She looks like she could be related to Kristen Schaal. She doesn’t have anything to prove to you, or anyone else.

Her singular musical identity is a monolithic presence on What We Saw From the Cheap Seats, the most Spektory album in her discography so far. Soviet Kitsch was Regina at her quirkiest, Begin To Hope was Regina at her most flexible, and Far was Regina at her most radio-friendly. When listening to Cheap Seats, it’s clear that this is the Regina that she herself wants to show us.

Which is to say, this album sounds more Russian than a game of Tetris.

From the get-go, “Small Town Moon” seems like a statement of purpose. Spektor sings, “How can I leave without hurting everyone that made me?” and it’s tempting to read a little personal cry of independence into that. But, as with all of Spektor’s songs and all good folklore, it’s difficult to tell where the diary ends and the yarn-spinning begins. It’s why, on “Oh Marcello,” Spektor’s invocation of The Animals is even more intriguing: “I’m just a soul whose intentions are good/Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.”

In an album that trades sunshine for a subdued chill, “Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)” is a bloom in the snow. Longtime listeners may remember the original, stripped down, piano-only version on Spektor’s Songs. The version on Cheap Seats is drenched in orchestral flourishes, including everything from a memorable Dixie-style brass interlude to a Casio keyboard beat. The closest thing on this album to a “cute” Regina song, it’s an ode to Paris and New York and kooky non sequiturs. Don’t listen to it if you’re morally opposed to happiness.

It doesn’t take long for Spektor to get back to the borscht-and-potatoes heart of the album. “Firewood” is a sweetly sad song touching on life and death, somewhat reminiscent of Soviet Kitsch’s “Chemo Limo.” But the darkest track is “All the Rowboats.” If it isn’t the theme song for the KGB, it should be. A song rich in atmosphere, this spooky and sinister song turns something as simple as a museum into a terrifying nightmare realm. The track opens an odd, unsettling Euro-techno riff and electronic drum crashes. Spektor sings of masterpieces and treasures as doomed prisoners (“It’s their own fault for being timeless”). It’s her take on string instruments that will haunt you, though: “God, I pity the violins/In glass coffins, they keep coughing/They’ve forgotten how to sing.”

“Jessica” takes Cheap Seats to a softer, folksier place. It’s guitar-driven, which is odd, because one would assume Regina Spektor was a half-human-half-Steinway cyborg. But here we are. The deluxe edition’s “Call Them Brothers,” a charming duet with Only Son, proves that Regina the Non-Comformist is adept at fusing her talents with collaborators (listen to her contribution on Ben Folds’ “You Don’t Know Me All” if you’re still skeptical); its harmonies are gorgeous. But if tastes of the Kremlin are more your thing, a couple of Russian cover songs round the album out. I can’t understand them, but they sure sound good.

Cheap Seats feels like a true composition, with carefully articulated levels, artfully designed facets. It is a luxurious album from the first lady of eclecticism.

Eric’s Picks
(1) “Small Town Moon”
(2) “Oh Marcello”
(3) “Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)”
(4) “Firewood”
(7) “All the Rowboats”
(11) “Jessica”
(12) “Call Them Brothers”

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About mattneric

We like music.
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103 Responses to Regina Spektor — “What We Saw From the Cheap Seats”

  1. mskatykins says:

    Really nice post, Eric. I not only like the review of her music, also really appreciated the top 5 Russian exports! 🙂

  2. Dan Martin says:

    eggsellent review.

  3. Tam Le says:

    OMGGGGG this album is so good! “Ne Me Quitte Pas” has a whole new life and “How” is so sad it makes me want to skip the song to stop the pain but I could never skip a Regina Spektor song. I want her voice as the theme song to my life.

    • mattneric says:

      You know, “How” didn’t grab me like some of the other songs did. You’re the second person who’s mentioned it to me, so maybe I need to give it another try!

      • Alyssa says:

        Was I the first? Creepy that I’m just now posting on this? I needed some Regina in my life today and this was an easy way to find it….

  4. A post featuring vodka tonics AND Regina Spektor??? No wonder you were Freshly Pressed. BRILLIANT!

    🙂

  5. I do love Regina, but I’d have forgiven you for putting Zangief ahead of her!

  6. proftamid says:

    No doubt Regina is superb beyond comparison!
    Nice taste, nice reading, nice post, nice all…
    Congrats!

  7. Franco says:

    I have loved her for so long.

  8. denabobena says:

    I have been a huge fan of hers ever since I randomly picked up her “Begin to Hope” album at a Walmart. She is probably my favorite singer ever. Great post!

  9. mrlesco says:

    Also, she’s fabulous live. I saw her perform in Boston this year. I wasn’t blown away by her opening act, but she was lovely!

    • mattneric says:

      When i saw her in Austin in (I think) 2007, she was adorable and phenomenal. Only Son actually opened up for her that night, and he was nice and chill.

  10. Sarah D. says:

    I hadn’t heard Regina Spektor, so thank you for including the clips. It must be an age thing: I find the visuals distracting, but if I just listened to the music, she was wonderful. Then I reread your reviews. You have a very good way of describing the songs and music, not an easy thing to do. Well done!

    Poor little Laika, though, makes me rather sad. I think of the sweet little guy being shot into space and probably wondering what was going on . . . ugh. (Ooops, sorry for the downer — but you brought him up!)

  11. Well put! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed following Regina through and around and under this thing called life!

  12. I lloooovvvee her! She has such a unique voice…thanks for sharing!

  13. Libby says:

    I adore Regina’s voice. Her music makes me want to sing — which wouldn’t be a good thing for anyone within earshot. Great review! 🙂

  14. dyefeltsool says:

    Thanks for this. I love when I discover something that I didn’t know about previously but I’m pretty sure I’m going to enjoy – now that I know about it!
    Have a great day!

  15. Brenna Thompson says:

    I love Regina’s music, although I only have Begin to Hope. It’s the type of music I can listen to on repeat for hours on end. I have even used a few songs for school choreogrpahy projects. Great Review! I will definetly be getting her new cd’s!

  16. “What we Saw from The Cheap Seats” Is a phenomenal album and a great addition to Regina Spektor’s huge collection (I’ve heard her say in an interview that she has composed hundreds of songs but hardly ever writes them down). I’ve loved her ever since I heard “Us” when I was about 15. Thanks for a great review!

  17. I love Regina so much! She is honestly so talented and unique. I did a post about this album on my blog when I found out that it was coming out: http://trulyluminary.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/regina-spektor-new-album/ – Thank you for writing this post! Such a fan of Regina’s! 🙂

  18. All new to me, thanks, and congrats on being freshly pressed.

  19. Reginaaa!!! I love her

  20. Kari Andrews says:

    Love her. Love Two Birds on a Wire.

  21. idreamofeden says:

    I have such an appreciation for Regina (and a vodka tonic) Regina- she sets my creative pace. Whenever I am in a rut, she is the first one to go too. Thank you for the reminder of this Russian beauty, can’t wait to listen to the new album. Congrats on freshly pressed!

  22. Ben Knotts says:

    You’re famous now fellows! Don’t let it go to your head though. haha By the way – great job at letting your personality shine in your posts. It clearly sets you apart from other reviewers. Keep it up!

    http://benknotts.wordpress.com

  23. Kate says:

    I first heard of Regina when “Fidelity” was used for a pro-marriage equality video during the Prop 8 drama. Aside from my happiness that she agreed to that use, it was an extremely powerful song in that context. She got a fan for life with that move.

  24. I agree about the list, she is definitely at number one! Love this new album, have been listening to it a lot these last few weeks! 🙂

  25. Great review. I remember how I came to discover Regina. It was all about X-Factor’s Christa Collins rendition of Radiohead’s No Surprises. I was amazed by Christa’s cover that I googled the video and voila! I discovered Regina. I found out that her cover of No Surprises was the missing link between Radiohead’s and Christa. It was Regina who reinvented No Surprises.

  26. missknowall says:

    what an accurate description of her style. Though, “all the rowboats” and KGB are not the best association.

  27. YorkFork says:

    Love Regina. Her music is so gorgeous.

  28. Austin says:

    Great review and I couldn’t agree with your picks more. But, come on. Vodka tonics. I used my fake id to get into a bar once too.

  29. I did not realize that her discography was so large by this time. I remember her breakthrough song in the mainstream US with the early hipster style all around, but can’t seem to find which record that was from (sometime in the mid-2000s). These three tracks you have selected are excellent. -‘tarotworldtour’

  30. I’m addicted to Regina Spektor. I love how well she uses piano in her songs. It’s really inspirational.

  31. kafemandela says:

    Reblogged this on KafeMandela and commented:
    I feel the energy by reading the first paragrah, Who Wants More Coffee?

  32. Sampson, may be my most favorist song of all time. Love some RS.

  33. ellyche says:

    I love her so much! Thank you for reminding me that I must buy this CD asap 🙂

  34. Sam says:

    Congrats on being freshly pressed

  35. Man Regina is awesome, shes beautiful and shes one hell of a singer. Amazing that i haven’t noticed her before especially considering I’m from N.Y. But Who could forget that smile i mean 4 real -,o

    http://wp.me/2aAA8

  36. forageporage says:

    Kudos on your Freshly Pressedness. So glad they pointed you out to me! Love Regina, OUR Akhmatova; and very much enjoyed your review. Keep On Keepin’ On!

  37. I also love the song she did with The Strokes called ‘Modern Girls & Old Fashion Men’.

  38. brennamarie7 says:

    Regina Spektor’s songs have helped me through so much. When I finally got to see her live (promoting the album Far) it was literally a dream come true! Thanks so much for this review (:

  39. Devi R. Ayu says:

    Reblogged this on PELANGI MAKNA and commented:
    Always love Regina.. Turn out you can meet people who loves her as well :))

  40. Thank you for introducing me to Regina and her music! I love her Joie de vivre for storytelling with song.

  41. Grace says:

    Love Love Love Regina Spektor!!!! I totally agree with your post 🙂

  42. Roger says:

    Thank you for this review, I like to think of her as the Einstein of Music!

  43. Red Toenails says:

    Thanks for the introduction. I just discovered Emeli Sande and feel the same way.

  44. shittydad says:

    We love regina! Molodietz!

  45. samacwns says:

    I love “Far”! I keep thinking I need to buy more of her CDs…maybe this will be the next one I get! Thanks for the review. 🙂

  46. simonebirger says:

    Oh how I love Regina. That girl sings like fairy dust and bacon sprinkled over awesomeness.

  47. I love this review. Well, mostly because I’m a budding musician and she’s been one of my few inspirations, musically. She’s incredible.

  48. SimplySage says:

    Excellent write about someone I’d never heard of. Love her music. Delightfully different.
    Peace,
    Alexandria

  49. I love How. So direct and straight forward but so heart-touching.

  50. larafriendly says:

    we’re going to see her tonight in London and I cannot wait!!!

  51. meenopolis says:

    I love this album; great review !

  52. Love her! Great bio and reviews.

  53. swimalong says:

    Thanks for this exposure to great music, great talent and such an echanting voice. My best friend is another great Russian import, and I’ll have to share this talent with her… in the meantime, I’m listening on and looking for Regina’s name in lights.

    If you like this stylized music – what do you think of Mayor Hawthorne?

  54. meganchapple says:

    I’ve listened to a few of her songs and she’s really good

  55. You had me at “more Russian than a game for of Tetris”. Brilliant!

  56. mishvo says:

    Ah – I can’t believe I had no idea she had a new album! So exciting. Can’t wait to download!

  57. Tamara Gonzalez says:

    I love Regina Spektor but I didn’t like her last record, I think it’s ugly.

  58. rawrrmusic says:

    Ms. Spektor is an angel! Great review, I’m glad I saw it on freshly pressed

  59. Chris Marot says:

    Regina Spektor is wonderful. Great post. I did a feature on a Vermont-based Indie band, Citizen Bare, on my podcast (radiofreenewengland.com). I’m sure they’d appreciate a listen and review from your blog as well!

  60. Regina is so cute!

    lovablekitties.wordpress.com

  61. Scott says:

    This is the first time I’ve heard of Regina Spektor. She has a very nice voice, and her music is melodious–but it would sound so much better if she were accompanied with real instruments rather than electronic sound-makers.

  62. arasyidash says:

    You are gorgeous,I guessed it from the beginning that you are a Russian (sory bad english)

  63. I have a friend who enjoys Regina’s music, so I sent your post to her. I’m sure she’ll enjoy it–especially the snippets of her album!

  64. winkingisweird says:

    I was IMMEDIATELY drawn to your post off freshly pressed because my husband just introduced me to Regina Spektor’s “All the rowboats” about 3 weeks ago. I immediately fell in love. I’m soo hooked and can’t believe I’m just learning of her. I love her voice. Great review.

  65. thanks for this! I will have to have a listen.

  66. Reblogged this on Aaronbautista95's Blog and commented:
    Awesome review, funny how I was listening to her while I stumbled upon this post

  67. to think I was going on and on about her to my friends the other day! I could have saved my breath and just showed them this post! love it! And I do appreciate the top 5 russian imports 🙂

  68. munieq11 says:

    I’ve first listened to her music quite a while ago, and I fell in love straight away. She is awesome! 🙂 There is this really cool video on youtube when she forgets her lyrics on a concert and just asks the crowd and it was amazing! 😀

  69. I just bought my copy on amazon yesterday!

  70. I’m a lover of vodka tonics and I think I could develop a taste for Regina Spektor too — I’ve heard the name but never the voice. Very cool.
    Also — you guys know you can write a good review, otherwise you probably wouldn’t be blogging, but seriously — I’ve read my share of bad reviews in my day so I truly appreciate the good ones. Nice job.

  71. This review is beautifully-written. I’ve been trying to find a way to express the joy that Spektor’s newest album brings forth, and I think from now on, I’ll just link everybody to this post. Thank you!

  72. sunsetwave says:

    Amazing post! I love Regina Spektor so much, she is an incredible artist!

  73. Milanista says:

    Really nice photos that capture the feeling of the city. I especially liked photos 5,7 and 15. Just shows what you can do with the kit lens even in low light.

  74. jdanryan says:

    I liked the review of the album, and you make some good points that make me want to download this later.

    But for the list you open the piece with: No Tchaikovsky or Sergei Eisenstein? Really? Admittedly, some of the items on the list can’t be cast off to put these two on it, but there must be *some* way to make room here…

  75. interstitial_squirrel says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. You didn’t repeat yourself in an effort to emphasize how Russian she is, and I know I would have; and you even created a ‘long, cold winter’ kind of atmosphere in which to couch your description of the album. Plus, hell yes, Regina Spektor, queen of my heart.

  76. I’m such a fan of this post, and Regina as well.

  77. Aayan says:

    Reblogged this on Its happening and commented:
    One of the most versatile singer ever…. Good Read..

  78. Pingback: Top 50 Albums of 2012: Eric’s List | mattneric

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