The Arty Semite

At 32, Regina Spektor Is Better Than Ever

By Matthew Kassel

  • Print
  • Share Share

“Today we’re younger than we ever gonna be,” Regina Spektor sings in the balladic “Small Town Moon,” the first track on “What We Saw From The Cheap Seats,” her sixth solo album.

It’s the kind of sappy phrase you might find written on one of those motivational posters that are taped to the walls of high school classrooms. But it works in the song, which, as far as I can tell, is about taking your time with getting older.

It’s one of the best songs on an album full of good songs that include bouncy jaunts, ballads and satires. Spektor, the Russian-born singer and pianist, says the line three times, over rich piano chords and minimalist bass and drums, and after the second time, she lets out a girlish “Whooo!” that sets a playful tone.

The album is full of moments like that, as is her body of work. She’ll throw in an accent, or an unexpected word, or imitate a trumpet with her mouth. She’s theatrical and sassy — the kind of singer you’d get if you combined the most distinct qualities of Joni Mitchell, Bjork and Fiona Apple. “Summer in the city means cleavage, cleavage, cleavage/ And I start to miss you, baby, sometimes,” she sings (ruefully, it seems) on her fourth record, “Begin to Hope,” from 2006.

There’s another Regina Spektor, though: the one that teeters on the edge of being lugubrious without going over. The critic Wyatt Mason summed it up nicely in a recent blog post for The New York Times, calling it her “capacity for authentic sentiment.” (If you haven’t done so already, listen to “Samson,” also from “Begin to Hope,” for an idea. It will slay you.)

I came closest to being slayed, on this album, while listening to “How,” a spare, soulful elegy of love lost. Etta James would have had a good time with it.

“What We Saw From The Cheap Seats” doesn’t feel as ambitious as Spektor’s last album, “Far” released in 2009. It’s her shortest record; there’s no single concept explored, except maybe love — lost, fulfilled, unrequited — and age, too.

Spektor seems preocuppied by age. In the last song of the album, “Jessica,” she sings sweetly, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar strummed in waltz time: “Jessica, wake up/ It’s February again/ We must get older, so wake up.”

In an interview from 2006, Spektor admitted to feeling much older than she should have as a child. (Her family emigrated from Moscow to the Bronx when she was 9 to escape anti-Semitism.) When she started making records in the early aughts, a lot of her songs conveyed a certain wisdom that made her seem precocious. Now Spektor is 32, and the precocity has faded. This isn’t a problem (32 might be the new 16); it’s just something to notice, and it’ll be interesting to see how she grows in the coming years.

In “Oedipus,” from ”Songs,” Spektor’s second album recorded about a decade ago, she sings from the perspective of Oedipus Rex’s hypothetical 32nd son. Indignantly, she intones: “32 is still a goddamn number, 32 still counts.”

As it turns out, that would make a pretty good slogan for this album.

Watch Regina Spektor perform ‘Small Town Moon’:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Music, Regina Spektor, What We Saw From the Cheap Seats, Matthew Kassel

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.