Four years after the success of 2012’s, What We Saw From The Cheap Seats, Regina Spektor has released her seventh studio album, Remember Us To Life, an album full to the brim of Spektor’s characteristic quirky stories and upbeat melodies.
“What have you got on tap, I’ll take two of that/ I’m chasing a story I heard,” sings Spektor in an abrupt opening to first track, Bleeding Heart, gradually softening into a light piano line, later joined by a sparing series of electronic beeps and scattered drums. Spektor’s voice is doing the vast majority of the work in this opening songs, regularly reaching up into her falsetto for the refrain of “never mind your bleeding heart”, occasionally breaking into a shout, only to fall into barely more than a whisper. There are some interesting tempo chances throughout that create a strange dynamic to the song as a whole, as a listener we are kept constantly on our toes; an effect that keeps an otherwise fairly pedestrian song interesting, if a little tired at points.
Second track Older And Taller is slightly stronger and more cohesive, with a much more definitive melody and piano line. The intricate lyricism for which Spektor has become known weaves through the song:
“All the lies, they were wiser
And wise were the lies
And the lies were on fire
And the fires were put out just to be lit again.”
She sings at speed, hardly seeming to take a breath. Third track Grand Hotel has a whimsical feel to it, dreamlike images surging through the lyrics while the track glitters underneath, transporting the listener to a faraway world. At just over three minutes long it is the shortest track on the album, but seems in many ways to be the most effective encapsulation of Spektor’s storytelling mission as she creates a portrait reminiscent of Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel.
In Small Bill$, Regina Spektor moves in a much different musical direction, allowing her vocals to lead not just as a means to convey a story, but also as a musical tool in it’s own right, scatting repeatedly alongside heavier drums, bass and strings to create an unusual sound. The song itself is not instantly likeable: it seems to create a split in the fabric of the album that doesn’t quite sit as it should. It certainly provides a break from the dreamy storytelling of the rest of the songs, but it is a challenging listen that is perhaps a minute or so too long and could potentially have worked better as a shorter interlude.
Just over halfway through the album comes The Light, a soft and simple tune with a lullaby feel. The lyrics become much less focused, meandering through images of sunlight and stars in a way that becomes somewhat repetitive at point, but is still a pleasant listen nonetheless. Sellers Of Flowers seems to be ready made as a soundtrack to an indie film, it moves in flux with moments of softness and simplicity, placed in juxtaposition with swelling crescendo as quick witted lyricism. Spektor engages most fully with her particular brand of storytelling here:
“A small piece of ice, lodged in my mind
Lodge in my thoughts, lodged in my eyes
Cold all around, cold all around
Warm from inside, warm from inside.”
She sings, her voice falling around the melody like shards of ice themselves, leading the listener through her own dream world, pulling from fairy tales and legends to create her own landscape.
As a cohesive album it becomes a slightly repetitive affair, we are so overcome with rich images, pounding piano lines and jarring tempo and key changes that it can feel a little directionless at times. Though Spektor’s talent for storytelling cannot be denied, some of her lyrics can feel a little cliché at points and seem to resist being absolutely likeable, as her melodies generally are. Overall however, Remember Us To Life is an enjoyable listen, an escape into a little brightly coloured world of Spektor’s own creation.