Hope. If what Emily Dickinson said is true, then for many of us, this little bird with feathers has been perched on our shoulder since 2006: when we first began to hope for Regina Spektor’s
next album. After much longing by fans and a heavy promo run, Far
is finally near, and Spektor stays true to form, balancing her conscientious analysis of humanity with deliberate but gentle storytelling. The words matter. And thankfully, she still delivers them to us with the occasional coy glance and mad chops on the piano.
A good number of these songs are tracks she’s been playing live for years. So far, her label, Warner Brothers, has given us two singles and three videos (“Laughing With“, “Eet” and “Dance Anthem of the 80s“) which built buzz and excitement. But bees can sting. The “comment” sections of these outlets are ignited by some fans feeling fiery about the themes of religion and faith in the album’s lyrics.
Spektor wasn’t afraid to go there on Begin to Hope, drawing from Bible (or more likely the Tanakh for the Jewish-heritage Spektor) narratives. In “Samson”, she beautifully re-imagined of the story of Samson and Delilah. She seems even more willing to go there in Far. “Laughing With” is matter-of-fact: “No one laughs at God on the day they realize that the last sight they’ll ever see is a pair of hateful eyes”. Then she takes us to the garden of Eden in “Blue Lips” where Adam and Eve get credit for the entire mess we’ve inherited: “They started out beneath the knowledge tree. Then they chopped it down to make white picket fences”.
These allusions offend some who feel her beliefs are being imposed upon them (reminder to these folks: you can turn off the music any time you like). Now, maybe it’s just a few of you, but sweet Regina seems anything but imposing. So let’s speculate her only agenda is tell the truth as she sees it. We get the feeling she’s watching this world through some extra special lenses. Nothing is too ordinary or forgettable and that’s why we love her. Master storyteller C.S. Lewis said, “if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring two pence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” You see, a simple-truth telling Spektor doesn’t have to try to be original. She just is.
Spektor’s been known to say her songs are rarely autobiographical. This seems to jive with Far. Although she’s not necessarily telling a story about herself or telling you what you should believe, she might just be narrating a story about you. Perhaps you’ve been the couple in “The Calculation”, who realized love isn’t as formulaic as you thought; or maybe you’re the gal in “Folding Chair”, who lights up at the dream to “get a silver bullet trailer and have a baby boy” or one of the boys and girls of the poppy, kitschy-cool “Dance Anthem” who “watch each other eat, when they really just wanna watch each other sleep”.
Let’s face it. Though we are diverse and eclectic, our humanity is common in our most simple longings: to be loved, to give love, to make a difference for someone or the world, to be noticed. Spektor floats effortlessly through these deep themes and lightens them with her cheery da-da-das and playful hooks and rhythms. “Eet” both haunts and empowers with the minor keys and tempo changes. Then she goes dark, in Orwellian shadows of The Matrix, on “Machine” before telling the story of Carl, the unwitting “Human of the Year” who achieves the ultimate honor… or, wait, does he? “One More Time With Feeling” coaches us through this worldly stage, where all of us are players in a genius use of acting vernacular. Over and over again the imagery she chooses is tactile: art made of macaroni noodles, a crumpled receipt for a pair of leather boots, safety pinned children’s clothes. It’s here in the ordinary, she awakens our remaining senses and gently brings you out of the figurative into reality.
Production on the album is tighter and cleaner than albums past. There is surely a contingent upset Regina is not banging a drumstick on a chair in studio. But before you go thinking our very own Consequence Princess (yes, this site is named for one of her songs!) has forsaken her quirkiness, check out “Folding Chair” where she morphs her voice into a “dolphin song”. Where she actually sounds, all the more charmingly, like a barking seal. When’s the last time you met a sweet Russian songstress who attempts a sea-mammal impersonation? Quirky remains!
With Far, Ms. Spektor further solidifies her spot as the songstress of choice for those of us who desperately want to love Bjork but secretly just don’t always get her. We get Ms. Spektor and she gets us. As the Proverb says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” You’ll feel alive as you listen to this one.