Regina Spektor, the object of musical affection for such kings of hipness as The Strokes, has finally released her first full-length album, Soviet Kitsch, in American record stores. To her fans who glued themselves to her delightfully personal website as the only reliable source for her music; who followed her performances at various Manhattan cafés; and who found themselves wooed and drooling from the moment she coyly appeared onstage as the opening act for The Strokes, Kitsch is a mouthwatering prospect.
In tune with her previous artistic outings, Kitsch shows Spektor as an artist elusive to definition. Her songs are piano-driven with her free-spirited mezzo-soprano vocals — at times strong chants, childishly trill or uninhibitedly improvising — racing across octaves. The musical genre dangles between folk, classical, jazz and pop — a rare balance sustained by Spektor’s energy and willingness to experiment.
In her songs, she skips among being vivacious, silly and helpless. She’s sweet enough to be perpetually awe-struck and heartbroken, but gutsy enough to tell a man, “You’re children are grown / And you haven’t made your wife moan” and “Maybe you should just drink a lot of coffee / And never watch the 10 o’clock news” as she does in “The Ghost of Corporate Future.”
The track “Chemo Limo” exemplifies Spektor’s emotional and categorical versatility: The melody begins as winding and plaintive, and her voice hops feisty from note to note. Then, she sing-speaks with a Spanish Harlem accent, beat boxes and loops back to that wispy sadness. On “Ode to Divorce,” she sings, “I need your love / So won’t you help a brother out / Won’t you help a brother out?” Though her repetitive playfulness can be unnerving in the way talkative kids can be both endearing and annoying, she reminds listeners that music can’t be taken too seriously. Her concurrent vulnerability and free-spiritedness create an image of Spektor as revealing as the characters in her songs.
Spektor’s music shows people uncontrived and uninhibited. She’s recorded various moments that, in their different forms, blanket the human experience. As she sings, “Things I have loved I’m allowed to keep,” on the song “The Flowers,” the listener is cajoled into nostalgia, remembering observations, arguments, first kisses, needs — some that may not even be their own.
The main theory of psychiatrist Carl Jung is that of the “collective unconscious,” the reservoir of our universal experiences as humanity. We are never fully conscious of this basin of happenings; nonetheless it affects all of our actions and emotions. Regina Spektor’s songs are a manifestation of Jung’s theory. She ties strangers’ stories together with seams of fidgeting piano solos and bold vocals. She drags a microscope across a bustling and bursting world, letting it linger over protagonists in their moments of confusion, irony and sillyness — experiences too real to be helplessly lost amongst the swollen crowds.
Rating: 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars