Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Regina Spektor

  • Soviet Kitsch [Sire, 2005] **
  • Begin to Hope [Sire, 2006] ***
  • Far [Sire, 2009] A-
  • What We Saw From the Cheap Seats [Sire, 2012] B+
  • Remember Us to Life (Deluxe Edition) [Sire, 2016] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Soviet Kitsch [Sire, 2005]
Once again, wise-ass New York art-pop (cf. Apple, McKay) outslugs subtle Toronto art-pop (e.g., Stars, Feist) ("Your Honor," "Ode to Divorce"). **

Begin to Hope [Sire, 2006]
A bigger heart than her piano-playing New York City counterparts but a slightly smaller talent, a problem that could prove chronic or lessen with time ("That Time," "Another Town"). ***

Far [Sire, 2009]
No kid but not yet 30, the very classically trained piano woman outgrows her musical and verbal eccentricities. The tunes are consistently fetching, and a few standouts have clever lyrics--"Laughing With," the sensible theist's answer to "One of Us," or "Wallet," in which a good-hearted young person reaches across the generational divide to a stranger who'll never know who did him a good turn. But that cleverness doesn't do justice to the even strength of Spektor's humanism, which often manages to be whimsical and levelheaded at the same time. Insofar as one can read autobiography into this carefully unsubjective stuff, she seems to have the usual commitment problems and also seems likely to overcome them. Eventually she's sure to find a bird who's ready to fly away just when she is. A-

What We Saw From the Cheap Seats [Sire, 2012]
Outside of country music (and I don't know who compares there), pop music is home to few friendlier artists than Regina Spektor. So well-meaning you want to kiss the tip of her nose, she uses her classical chops to craft tunes that will help any normal listener smile. But although a practical humanist is a rare thing, this one often needs more spice or even grit, and here her whimsy is front and center. I love "All the Rowboats," about a museum--"Masterpieces serving maximum sentences/It's their own fault/For being timeless"--and "Firewood," about a piano. "Ballad of a Politician" plays off "Shake it, shake it baby" (hands, get it?) and "Open" comes with a gurgling groan. But many of these songs are merely bemused, and when she revises "I'm just a soul whose intentions are good," all she achieves is a different singalong from the one you expected. B+

Remember Us to Life (Deluxe Edition) [Sire, 2016]
Let's speculate that marriage, motherhood, and turning 35--a big one that can sandbag you--are all on her melodically fertile mind. Let's assume it's been pretty sobering. Without being a sad sack, she was always serious. But her softer fans may be daunted by the steely class fable "The Trapper and the Furrier" and the fatalistic faux trifle "Sellers of Flowers," by quietly unrelenting five-minute bonus cuts in which an aged solitary celebrates New Year's and old friends compare their polar yet equally confining life paths--maybe even by her fond report that both her baby boy and his dad are better at dreaming than she is. So to help her dream more darkly, she enlists classically inclined producer Leo Abrahams, whose second piano is meant to ensure that "Obsolete" sticks around a while. A-

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