Following Regina's successful foray into TV, with her much adored song 'You've Got Time', (to accompany the credits of 'Orange Is The New Black') and four years after her last album, 'What We Saw From The Cheap Seats', Spektor is back with her 7th studio album to date. 'Remember Us To Life' is a cornucopia of eclectic, eccentric, bohemian and wonderfully balanced but off-centre songs that are full of imagination and creativity.
There are not an infinite number of releases that could have arisen from Regina's latest, all new, all original work. There are either 11 or 14 tracks, depending on whether you choose to go deluxe or not. To date there have been four single releases; album opener, 'Bleeding Heart', 'Small Bill$', 'Black And White' and latterly 'Older And Taller'. If you'd have given me the rest of the year to choose those tracks (Never mind the order!) I'd have been as good as I am with the connecting wall on Only Connect; either I'd have had an extremely lucky guess or, as is usually the case, been left wanting and wondering. Sometimes life is baffling.
It's odd, or mildly interesting at least, that the four first tracks lifted off the album to date are all less Regina than you may be used to.(Please excuse the footballing/soccer analogy that follows...) It's as if there's a new manager on the scene and instead of playing to established strengths there's been a conscious effort to play to a new system. They know what quality they've got on the bench so why not try playing a 5-3-2 formation instead of the more obvious 4-4-2. As Regina herself sings, "What a strange, strange world we live in..." I would love to have been a fly on the wall during the meeting of A&R people, production team, label execs and Regina... if such a meeting ever happened, to see where the decision came from to emphasise other facets to Regina's canon of work. This is a great album, however, these choices, the sequencing and above all, knowing the remaining tracks available, it leaves me slightly perplexed as to how this came to be.(My slightly laboured point here is that these first four releases are not at all bad but neither are they the best the album has to offer. by a long shot).
Regina has a style all her own, an individuality that is magical and worthy of celebration, a character full of idiosyncrasies with an abundance of inspirational and influential artistry. Musically she could probably try anything and make it work, make it her own and always deliver it with aplomb but she doesn't really need to. Maybe that's the point; she doesn't need to but she is supremely talented so she can. Is it a test or is it just a punt at capturing a fresh audience that are unaware of Regina's back catalogue? Either way, I think that if you're holding aces you should play them, not hold them back.
It's true that 'Bleeding Heart' has more immediate appeal than some, it could be seen to be very radio friendly and has an obvious, broad spectrum, overtly pop appeal. 'Small Bill$', possibly the most traditionally 'Spektor' like track of the first four releases, is more brooding, has a slightly sinister side and is packed full of narrative content. 'Black And White' (Possibly the worst song on the album) is her most mawkish to date (and the less said the better) and then lastly, 'Older And Taller', is a disjointed composition which at least has some signature lyrical flourishes to accent it..."All the debts, they got settled. And the settlers got cattle. But the cattle was rattled by the snakes that were guarding the garden gates" What they lack, but are by no means devoid of, by comparison however is that quality Regina can bring to a song using a combination of her vocal, neatly observed lyrics, left field sensibility and utterly brilliant piano arrangements. It's almost as if someone has said "yeah we all know she's great at that, but let's give the listeners something different."
My bewilderment aside, 'Remember Us To Life', is about far more than its initial quartet of singles. There are some, if not quite now then soon to be considered so, classic Spektor tracks here. Recalling thoughts of Nick Cave's 'Lyre Of Orpheus', the magnificently recounted tale, 'The Trapper And The Furrier', is a theatrical master piece with plot twists, devilish characterisation, puzzled yet wry observation, doom laden outbursts and a fantastic looping piano arrangement. 'The Light' (Recently performed on 'Later with..') strips everything back to quintessential Regina Spektor' with soft subtle vocalisation, beautifully textured keyboard accompaniment and captivating lyrics; here seemingly drawn from, and reflecting partially on, her relatively new experiences of motherhood. 'The Seller Of Flowers' ebbs and flows with pain and passion, tossing back and forth like a tormented sea. The piano composition more than ever exposes her classical training and perfect grasp of how to shift and manipulate her palette to give up such expression and drama. Here too her Russian ancestry seeps through in the delicate nod to her formative influences.
'Tornado Land' and 'The Visit' dwell similarly where you'd expect Regina to be most comfortable, immersed in piano and strings, mixing harmony and melody effortlessly in a refreshing combination but always with an odd twist and an unstudied, unique disposition. Just as with 'The Trapper And The Furrier' though there is more than just Regina's performance and delivery, more than her vocal, more than her lyrics, sometimes there is a convergence where everything is aligned so exquisitely to produce something special, something superb. And so it brings me to the album's outstanding highlight, 'Grand Hotel'. The lead and bass are played out brilliantly at both ends of the keyboard as Regina sound tracks a magnificent, sadly all too brief, tale. The gentle undulation of the arrangement gives up a fabulously imaginative and evocative story packed full of vibrant imagery. 'Grand Hotel' is a three minute musical equivalent to a page turning novella. "And hiding sharp horns under fedoras, do not disturb signs instead of a chorus......you'll always have friends at the Grand Hotel". Quite brilliant.
Sat at a piano Regina is regal, majestic even, executing quite magnificently a master class in refined, elegant, eloquent and immersive artistry. There is something quite warming and comforting about the almost instant feeling of familiarity that is hewn into the very fabric of the song structures, writing style, delivery and performance. Off-piste she's as creative as ever, pushing herself to both explore and deviate from the norm. The norm however, or at least Regina's quite individual and recognisable take on it, is where she still effortlessly excels and thankfully there's plenty (despite what you may have taken from my earlier ramblings) to enjoy here on 'Remember Us to Life'.
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