After eleven years of making albums chock-full of vocal experimentation, heartstring-tugging and stream-of-consciousness lyric-writing, are there any new paths left for Regina Spektor to tread? The answer is, most likely, yes but it doesn’t happen on her sixth album. Occupying dual status as both a showcase for new material and an opportunity to polish previous album tracks What We Saw From The Cheap Seats presents more as a random collection of songs rather than a cohesive album.
The songs are as pretty as always; the warm empathetic piano underpinning everything and hardly a track passes without an unexpected and joyful vocalisation that fans will no doubt want to try for themselves; a touch of creativity that elevates what otherwise could be a rather plain collection of ballads. New directions seem to be taken simply for the sake of it at times though; 2002’s ‘Ne me quitte pas’ being given a calypso-mariachi makeover in ‘Don’t Leave Me (Ne me quitte pas)’ a playful shake-up which is undoubtedly pleasant to listen to but is it necessary? Probably not.
‘Firewood’ is a stand-out a comfortable easy chair of a song that you could imagine a Disney grandmother singing to her grandchildren as a lullaby whilst tucking them into bed. This sentimentality and warmth that is recreated in ‘How’, a wistful, melodically safe song that could have been lifted straight off Begin To Hope it is so classically Spektor. ‘All The Rowboats’ explores the darker musical territory ventured into by Far‘s ‘Machine’, a haunted house of a song that recalls the chill of marble in the mausoleums it talks about. ‘Ballad Of A Politician’ explores similar themes of time and time-running-out with a Danny Elfman-like sinister spiderweb of a chorus behind it.
At 37 minutes this doesn’t feel like a ‘real’ release, more of a stopgap between the fuller more consistent albums. Spektor is famed for saying that she has written thousands of songs since her childhood but very few get written down and you get the impression that What We Saw From The Cheap Seats is a snapshot of these songs, as if for a month she recorded every idea that came into her head and released them instead of filtering out the less unique. A perfectly respectable collection of songs, but Christmas stocking fillers rather than the pièce de résistance.