Artists will always say they are individual (ala Monty Python); it is drummed into the human nature to try to make oneself different but part of a crowd. Some artists though are a little bit different whilst playing safe (Damon Alburn, I am looking at you), some artists think they are cool whilst not having an original bone in their body (Liam Gallagher, let's talk about your career), some people are truly out there (Frank Zappa for example) and some people are just strange but safe at the same time. Regina Spektor is one of those artists for me; she is a very interest and different musician, but she is still very safe as well. Originally from Moscow, Russia but came to live in America after periods in Austria and Italy, Ms Spektor is a widely travelled young lady. This album is her third album, but was her major label debut. Now Mrs Carter is the bigger fan of her work, but I wanted to have a look at this album. The title is taken from Milan Kundera's expression for the vacuous aesthetics of Stalinist-style communism. Now let’s see what the album sounds like....
Starting off with "Ode to Divorce" you have a slow introduction to Regina's world. A lullaby type beginning about the end of a relationship, this is a song that is looking back towards the person that you once loved. When she describes kissing someone else, it is sort of strange; but that is part of her charm and it makes sense that she ended up making a song with Ben Folds as well. It is not the song I would have started an album off with, but it is still a beautiful number. Next is "Poor Little Rich Boy" which has a strange percussion movement (sounding like a drum stick being hit off a piano) and is mocking of a boy who is not sure of himself. Again it is a sparser and quite number; but with Regina's voice filling the void that the lack of musical instruments fill makes it a strangely unique experience. Mixing up her experiences with the piano playing also helps with this track, a very interesting and intense moment. Afterwards you have "Carbon Monoxide" which was the lead single of the album. Again, it is a weird choice to be the first track off the album to be laid out to promote the record, but this record is not your average cookie cutter rebellion. This song is slightly creepy and not in an off-kilter jazz style, there is just something a little unsettling about the song and I cannot yet place my finger on it.
Next is "The Flowers" and it has a more classical feeling, the piano is being played to its full range, it is just an emotional track played by a truly fantastic player. It is a gorgeous number that is hauntingly beautiful. However, it feels safe compared to what has passed before hand until you have the Russian heritage at the end of the number shine through like a beacon of light. Then you have "Us" which seems to want to reach for greater moment in the life experience. This is a blueprint for what Spektor was going to make her own musical style on later albums, this is point genesis and I can see why this is still a favourite after all these years. "Sailor Song" is strange, just very, very, very, very, very strange - it is a sea shanty wrapped up in a loving piano movement and makes for some heavy listening for the average human being (I can actually already hear a few of the responses by the blog team to this track - Jerm will be laughing very hard with milk coming out of his nose, Helen will be loving it, Marc will be confused and scared, Luke will be too cool for school, Pete will be asking for Wildhearts and Chaney will be angry and confused). But it is an overall crazy number.....
....Until you get to the spoken word "Whisper" which leads into "Your Honor" ( our honour for the UK spelling - I'm keeping it like it is shown on the album - even though it is killing the spell check community out there). I feel like it is produced by the band in the creepy bar from Twin Peaks and front by the world's strangest pixie. It is a crazy number and very punk in feeling. When it goes back to the piano places it is really jarring and out of time, it does lose a bit of its momentum when this happens which is a shame as it was interesting till those bits sadly. "Ghost of Corporate Future" is a song about a man who is realising that he does not want to be part of the world he is part of. I love it when you have a story in a song, it makes the world a crazier place and this is a perfect slice of nut bar that is making this man so happy. "Chemo Lemo" however is a different piece of the same slice of nut bar that does not sit as easy with me. I love the song itself, but it is long and emotional, it is a dark moment in her songbook. Ending the album is "Somedays" which is another heartbreaking song, with Regina making full use of everything she has going for her. It is such an interesting and understated ending, honestly it ends like Holy Grail by Monty Python - all of a sudden that is it.
So how was the record for me then? By the time I got to the end of the album I felt like I had been through a very strange and different major label debut. It can honestly be said that this is a truly different type of record and stranger than other moments from her career. However, it does not quite gel together like the rest of her records. It feels a little too empty in places and I can see why it is not a well loved as Begin to Hope or Far. It is not a bad album by any stretch of the imagination, but it is not that good either. In a poll with NME magazine, this was voted one of the most important albums of the 00's; and as much as it pains me to say this, I don't think it was even one of the most important records her career in terms of what she has released - sure it was her major debut, but it did get better. She is a great artist and she did get better than this, but we all start somewhere.
5 out of ten - It could have been a bit better
Top track - Us
You can purchase the album from Amazon here
You can visit the official Regina website here
You can listen to the album on Spotify here
And here is a link for our Deezer users