Image © Sire Records 2006
Image © Messiah College 2006
(09 October 2007) Russian-born, American singer-songwriter and pianist Regina Spektor once stated she has composed around 700 of her own songs, yet rarely writes any of them down. She also explains that she never aspired to write songs herself, but instead that they seem to simply 'flow' to her. An artist whose music is largely inspired by a thriving imagination, she tells tales of fictional characters through inventive lyrical content and excitingly fresh vocal delivery, and has always held a certain desire to let each of her songs present their own musical style, rather than honing her sound as a 'whole' to fit into the confines of any rigid genre or restrictive musical box.
Self released albums 11:11 (2001) and Songs (2002) were made available exclusively to the U.S market, thus limiting exposure beyond her cult American fan base, before her reputation began to steadily increase following the release of her third album Soviet Kitsch through label Sire Records in 2004. Latest effort Begin To Hope hit the shelves in June 2006 and showcases an artist with hopes of presenting herself to a wider audience than ever before and a young lady setting out to prove she can more than hold her own within the competitive world of singer-songwriters.
Begin To Hope (Sire Records (USA) 91505-4694, 2006) finds Regina at her vibrant, intimate and inventive best throughout twelve diverse tracks implementing innovative vocal trickery, as she delivers lyrics focusing upon imaginative tales of discovery, the warmth of dreamy romance and offers a constantly engaging personal insight inside the mind of a wholly fascinating artist. The album is highly accessible in nature, each song averaging 4 minutes in length and the instrumentation is largely focused upon Regina's delicately balanced piano and soothing string work which rides alongside her diverse vocal capabilities.
Opening track "Fidelity" instantly creates an infectiously flowing groove through plucked string work and steady electronic pulses before Regina glides seamlessly inside the song's tapestry. Her vocals rich with emotion in their delivery, she is constantly able to hold the listener's attention as her voice dips and soars to the peak [and beyond] of its capabilities. Distorted guitar crashes into the gentle piano intro of second track "Better."
A raw, driving song simplistic in its structure that is gifted a melodic and moving edge by Regina's soothing vocals slowing at just the right moments, helping to ease the song to a serene conclusion. The early indications suggest this album is of a somewhat less experimental nature and instead a more streamlined, focused piece of work than previous efforts.
Then you are hit with the album's two stand-out moments. "Samson" is a heart wrenching ballad featuring a breathtaking vocal performance by Regina. One pained with regret, floating amongst the softest of piano that carries this song in gentle build ups and sudden, haunting pauses. Moving strings enter at the ideal moments, helping to enhance the mournful mood this song so powerfully creates. "On The Radio" follows up with a vibrant, hand clapping intro before switching to a verse that catches the breath with swaying piano and lyrics that find Regina at her most enchanting as she tells tales of D.J's falling asleep and a simplistically poignant take on the cycle of life.
Clearly then, Regina has not lost any of her eccentric touches and ambitious song-writing drive, though the second half of the album struggles to live up to its inspired openings and you question as to when the experimenting can become more of a focus than the talent of raw, honest emotion. The scattered piano and slow pace of "Fields Below" somewhat stumbles along without really going anywhere and therefore remains fairly forgettable for one example and there just feels something lacking, despite all the booming drums and stirring strings, to later track "Apres Moi". Perhaps it's that little too over-the-top, maybe that touch 'too much', but a song such as this for all its interesting instrumentation cannot compare to the beautiful, simplistic rawness conveyed within previous song "Samson".
Album closer, "Summer In The City" ends the album on a strong note, ripe with imagery of a lost girl alone in a city sprawling with life and a need to belong, its a song as tear-inducing as it is uplifting as we find Regina pouring her heart out over her piano, delivering lyrics coated with lines of humor in amongst the personal heartbreak of loneliness.
With this release Regina has blended her exceptional vocal abilities and touching piano work that fans of old have come to know and love, with more experimental with instrumentation such as warm keyboard work and electronic drum samples, to form an album of real quality. Questions may be asked as to whether the more focused, perhaps even 'commercial' feel certain songs hold refuse to let Regina's quirky, edgy approach to song-writing truly shine through and there is a somewhat dip towards the middle of the album, with the mid-paced numbers failing to capture your imagination as powerfully as the album's superb opening efforts, but her lyrics are sharper than ever, brimming with imagery and completing the immersive listening experience that Regina offers to her audience.
A creatively unstoppable force, Regina has slightly calmed her forays into the quirky and bizarre found in earlier albums, perhaps a sign of her maturing as an individual as well as a song-writer. After all, Regina Spektor has always been an artist gifted with an ability to envelop you in her own personal world and this
charming honesty is just one quality seemingly set to see her rapidly rising popularity only increase.--Jim Hall in Derby, England and Russ Elliot in New York