By: Dennis Cook
Regina Spektor's fifth album cements the notion that she isn't just another comely chica at a piano. With a steady hand, curiously angled wit and on-point melodic sense, Far (released June 23 on Sire/Warner) makes a good argument that she's Randy Newman's curly-topped little sister.
"You went into the kitchen cupboard/ got yourself another hour/ and you gave half of it to me/ We sat there looking at the faces of the strangers in the pages/ till we knew them mathematically/ They were in our minds until forever/ but we didn't mind/ we didn't know better."
The above verse opens the album as Spektor's confident, quasi-classical piano and Matt Chamberlain's drums skip with child-like glee before we're soon in that kitchen making computers out of macaroni pieces and counting up our feelings. She simultaneously tickles the places in our brains that adore Paul McCartney and e.e. cummings, poetry in populist motion. Far goes down so smoothly that it's only on repeat that one realizes how many big thoughts Spektor has stuffed into her ditties – views from space, astute observations on faith and how one laughs in the face of, well, all the horrors outside our windows. She's especially succinct and adroit at handling God on "Laughing With," which neatly foils notions of flat atheism by citing all the situations no one is laughing at God (and noting that "God can be funny," something fundamentalists of all stripes frequently forget). But even when she's not so sky-high-minded, Spektor ladles up music that's bright and danceable and oh-so-smart without ever breaking a sweat (and she'd catch that perspiration with her eyelashes anyway…).
Moods shift flexibly, where the big blue planet, humanizing reverie of "Blue Lips" is sandwiched between the bouncing inducement to just move "Eet" and "Folding Chair," the niftiest summer number this season. There's little she seems incapable of handling with style and a personal character that's rarely less than seductive and almost never grating in the way that kindred iconoclastic ancestors like Jane Siberry, Nina Hagen and Kate Bush can often be. And like honey to a bee, she's attracted some clever collaborators. Besides Chamberlain (your go-to skin thumper for girly singer-songwriters when he's not a Critter Buggin), there's ELO's Jeff Lynne, Reggie Watts (Maktub), veteran producer David Kahne (Tony Bennett, Stevie Nicks, Sublime) and engineering comer Jacknife Lee (U2, Snow Patrol, Bloc Party). Often multiple studios and many hands projects like this come across as scattered and overly manipulated but Far's vision is all Spektor, who sings with characteristic carelessness, a strong voice utilized like a flaming baton – wild and beautiful despite all the practiced sureness underlying each move.
Far feels timely, a song cycle that's absorbed the general feeling of being overwhelmed and frightened that marks the early 21st century but refuses to be cowered despite the acknowledged weight of it all. Where it would be easy for Spektor to capitalize on her nook on VH1 and their ilk, she's sidestepped the spotlight being proffered for a richer and, I dare say, nobler path. Far drives down to the deep strata of us with laughter and sincerity, a giggling hallelujah just when we need one.
JamBase | Tickled Blue
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