HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 June 2009
I have to hand it to Regina Spektor -- she actually has managed to refine and further her unique anti-folk/pop sound, but also keep the unique qualities of her older style. Her third studio album "Far" is all about this -- lots of multifaceted, fluid expanses of piano, weird little songs about computers made of macaroni, and a quirky little voice. It's a more polished piece of work, but still has the twists and edges to keep it interesting.
"We sat there looking at the faces/Of these stranges in the pages/'Til we knew 'em mathematically," Spektor says over a powerful, bouncing piano melody. She sings of creating pasta computers that "counted up our feelings/And divided them up even/And it called that calculation perfect love" and cutting out their own little pebble-hearts that they "struck 'em so hard/So hard/Until they sparked."
Well, it's nice to see that she isn't writing your average MTV goopy love-ballad about kissing.
It's followed up by a wistful little ballad with a title like a hiccup ("Eeeee-eeeeee-eeeeet!") , a horn-and-synth-riddled pop melody that bounces and swirls alternately, a stompy piano-rockers, mellow slower songs, soaring ballads about the ultimate prize ("Human, human of the year, you are"), a dance song or two, sprightly sunny pop melodies, a pair of rambling anti-folky songs.
It's nice to see that greater exposure hasn't taken away the weird from Regina Spektor's work. Rather than your usual silly love songs and personal laments, she tackles the loss of familiar things, God's sense of humor, a society full of chipper automatons ("They started out beneath the knowledge tree/Then they chopped it down to make white picket fences") and a 1984-esque story about being "hooked into machine." When it's not bizarre, she inserts little quirks and strange images that stick in your mind ("Blue lips, blue veins/The color of our planet from far away").
She also has become more polished musically, with everything a bit smoother and nimbler than before. Her piano is still the centerpiece -- it jabs, flows, bounces, ripples and elegantly twists -- and it's accompanied by the occasional swirl of synth, some horns, and plenty of subtle drumming. Listen carefully and you can hear a bit of violin in songs like "Laughing With," and some tambourine in "Blue Lips," just enough to flavor their sounds.
The song that doesn't fit in is "Dance Anthem of the 80s," which sounds like a token dance song, which tries to fuse anti-pop and dance. It doesn't quite work. The jabby jangling "Machine" (with its eerie synth and jingling chains) doesn't entirely fit either, but taken alone it's a brutally memorable song.
Well, enough of that. Spektor's slightly creaky vocals weave easily between clear high sweetness and quirky murmurs, and she's got a special knack for evoking a slightly magical, bittersweet worldview -- genies, a genial deity, love games, balloons, a lake that turns "thick as butter," and rainy streets. Lots of delightfully odd phrases ("and the pride inside their eyes/is synchronised to a love you'll never know") and images (sparks flying from a pair of pebble-hearts).
The special edition comes with a DVD with some extra music videos -- the surreal Escheresque "Laughing With," a frolic on a suburban frontyard in "Dance Anthem of the 80s," a soft-focused and elegant "Eet," and the black-and-white images of her face shot through a giant lens, surrounded by strange mirrors, snowglobes and contorted shapes. And there are two extra songs: the quirky sputtering "Time Is All Around" and the swirling strum-heavy "Sword and the Pen."
Despite a couple of ill-fitting songs (one awkward and one awesome), Regina Spektor's "Far" is a solid follow-up to her anti-folk and anti-pop tunes of the past.