It's pretty difficult to resist the charms of Regina Spektor. With lovely piano-based melodies, that acrobatic Russian-accented voice and jaunty tunes covering for surprisingly bittersweet lyrics, the singer-songwriter's talents have proved consistently unique for over a decade now. Although her latest does have some rough spots, it still sports plenty of the great stuff that makes Spektor so engaging in the first place.
What kind of great stuff? The catchy, handclap-based breakdown in between softer piano verses on opening track "Small Town Moon." The way Spektor breathily repeats the word "baby" in that same song, softly working it into the ground (Van Morrison should be proud). The gorgeous sound of "Firewood," with Spektor gently phrasing lyrics like "Rise from your cold hospital bed/ You're not dying / Everyone knows you're going to live / So you might as well start trying." Like a razor-sharp Mother Goose for grown-ups, Spektor's tunes are soothing, almost lullaby-like, but also thoughtful and musically complex.
So it doesn't work quite so well when Spektor goes for something harsher and darker, as she does for a block of songs in the record's second half. That set starts with single "All the Rowboats," whose compressed drums echo those on "Machine" from Spektor's 2009 release Far. Although these songs may be interesting on other merits (Spektor's gasping vocalizations on "Open" are unsettlingly effective), the rough and abrasive sound doesn't suit Spektor very well. Call me selfish, but I want Spektor to either buoy me up or just make me cry a bit, instead of scaring me away. —
Worth a Listen: "Firewood" and "Small Town Moon"