My First Favorite Album: 'Begin to Hope'
This week, Daily Music Writers are looking back on the first albums they ever loved. Today, Melina Glusac remembers Regina Spektor’s Begin to Hope.
The year? 2006. To this fledgling music writer, nothing in the world housed more promise — more ecstasy — than the CD section in Best Buy. I would stroll and stumble, extending a lanky arm to caress any shiny plastic jacket that caught my eye, avoiding the side-eyes of the half-blue, half-khaki employees. Who was Joni Mitchell? Fifth-grade Melina didn’t quite know. But she knew the cover of Blue was cool and intense and “funky fresh,” as the incomparable 2006-Ciara would say, and that was good enough.
So you can imagine my surprise upon noticing nifty cover art and an artist’s name I recognized — that elusive duo — one day in Best Buy. I remembered Regina Spektor from VH1’s weekly music countdowns (yes, I am 85 years old), and I remembered how much I loved her song, “Fidelity.” It, of course, was on the album I had in my hand — but it was also the only song I knew off the album. After 10 minutes of contemplation, Fall Out Boy’s Infinity on High in one hand, pure doubt in the other, I decided to purchase this doubt, this Begin to Hope thing, too. Hey, maybe all the other songs on it would be as catchy as “Fidelity.” Little Mel decided to carpe diem.
I got home, grabbed a book about Paris and sat down to listen. Cue all clichéd descriptions of first experiencing a piece of art that changes your life. Tears, joy, sorrow, rejuvenation, blah. Good? Okay. Now onto the more vital (nerdy) stuff:
When we delve further into Begin to Hope, we find its façade of semi-pop piano tunes is not at all evocative of Spektor’s depth. So we tear that down listen after listen, and find that she tickles the ivories like no other, but — unlike her contemporaries — the tickling technique differs stunningly with each song. “Fidelity” (still one of my favorite music videos) employs a choppy, kitschy style and juxtaposes the fluidity of “20 Years of Snow.” Spektor’s punk tendencies shine in “That Time,” which is fun and sexual and weird (“Hey, remember that time when you OD’d? Hey, remember that other time when you OD’d, for the second time?”).
And no one does slow like ReSpekt. “Samson” rips me to shreds with every listen, as its Biblically-infused lyrics continue to feed new meanings, metaphors and bits of poignant imagery. “Field Below” is a diamond in the rough, but soulful — and soul, I’ve come to find, is Spektor’s forte. Her love of jazz beams in “Lady,” a wink at Billie Holiday, complete with a smoky, Sonny Rollins-esque sax solo. Then there’s “Summer In The City,” my favorite, favorite, favorite. No words here — it’s all in the feeling, the slight slur in her speech, the desperation. Someone stop me, please.
Begin to Hope was everything to me, then and now. I mark it as the beginning of a “musical awakening,” an era I’ll probably live in my whole life: where music reigns and I am its voyager, venturing to foreign lands in search of fiery mixtapes and the cure for heartbreak. Hope also started a lifelong love affair with Regina Spektor, whom I regard as one of the best songwriters of our generation. It exposed me to her brilliant discography (special shout outs to Soviet Kitsch and Far). I cried Kim Kardashian-style at her Detroit concert my sophomore year of high school. Her lyrics pop into my head almost every day, at random times. But, most importantly and existentially, she’s there: The CD section at Best Buy is almost gone, but Spektor will be with me always.