Though you would never know it, Regina Spektor's recent hit album was actually her fourth, not her second.
One of those two "lost" albums was "Songs," an appropriate name for a collection of raw, beautifully simple little antifolk songs. The singer-songwriter spins out her little tunes around quirky vocals and exquisitely elusive, exuberant songwriting -- a truly astounding little album.
"You are my sweetest downfall/I loved you first, I loved you first/Beneath the sheets of paper lies my truth..." The first song opens with a gentle piano melody, as Spektor sings of a deep, simple love that no one remembers ("And history books forgot about us and the Bible didnt mention us"), but which is no less striking for its anonymity.
Well, enough love. Then it's off into the taut bizarrity of "Oedipus," about a young prince trying to make himself stand out. And the songs that follow are no less unique: rambling a capella, dark piano songs about wintry flowers, trippling piano pop with staccato vocals, and gentle ballads about death row prisoners.
It ends with "Ne Me Quitte Pas," a quirky pop ode to various cities and districts, including New York ("And if you are the ghost of New York City/then won't you stick around"), Paris ("I love Paris in the rain...") and Paris. Where the first song looked back fondly on a love affair, the last song frolicks in the present.
Well, it really says something about Regina Spektor that she can write a song about pickle love... and it not only works, but it's charming and cute. "Songs" is full of such songs -- songs about ordinary things, but they're seen through a lens that reveals the beauty, sorrow and weirdness of them.
The only real instrument here is Spektor's trusty piano, which would sound kind of bare bones for most singers. But she can make it do whatever she likes -- it trips, hiccups, ripples in waves, growls, and clumps in little dense pockets. "Samson" is the closest to a "normal" melody: a gentle, full-bodied melody that unfolds smoothly, but still hiccups occasionally.
Spektor's quirky, high voice is as versatile as her piano -- she croons, trills, soars, rambles, groans, and goes "brrrrrrrrr!". Her lyrics are elusive and hard to decipher at times, drawing as much from Greek mythology as from NYC life -- in one song she's meditating that "love is the answer to a question that I/have forgotten," and the next she's fantasizing about how, "I will open up my trenchcoat/they will see the butterflies/dangling like fake rolexes."
"Songs" is exactly what it says it is -- songs. But Regina Spektor fills these simple little tunes with quirky stylings and brilliant lyrics. A treasure.