Regina Spektor's 'Begin to Hope' can be sweet, hilarious & heartbreaking
Regina Spektor's knack for storytelling breaks all rules of structure and adds a whole pinch of drama & honesty
Release Date: 2006
To many people, Regina Spektor was the queen of indie in the early 2000s. Maybe it was her duet with Julian Casablancas of The Strokes for the song Modern Girls & Old Fashioned Men in 2004 (a B-Side on the Reptilia single. Also one more note: Nick Valensi, guitarist for The Strokes, plays the guitar on her song 'Better'). Maybe it was the fact that art rock legend, Peter Gabriel, covered her song 'Apres Moi'. There are plenty of reasons and contenders to discuss, but Regina Spektor to me was the piano-driven singer-songwriter that threw me out on a limb when it came to conventional song structures, vocalization and subject matter. Very few artists who don't fall into the traditional rock category in the '00s taught me that it's not just about what you sing,but how you sing it, more than Regina Spektor ever did. 'Begin to Hope' was my introduction to her as a kid.
Regina Spektor plays characters in her songs with such prompt seamlessness, that what comes off as jokey can also be truly intimate. Like the part where she switches into a faux British accent in Fidelity as she sings from the POV of her consoling friends ("ALL MY FRIENDS SAY YOU'RE GONNA GET BETTER). She does this thing where she'd insert odd phrasings into a song like the constant stops in 'On The Radio', and then randomly sing about how long the solo on November Rain is. Or insert the weirdest imagery or word into a really sentimental song. In one of the most heartbreaking songs I feel she's ever written, 'Samson', (You are my sweetest downfall) she slips in a line about eating wonder bread. And in 'Hotel Song', she talks about dreaming of Orca whales and owls. Okay let me list one more, in the last track (NOTE: This is a review of the normal edition, not the Deluxe Edition), Summer in the City, the line 'Summer in the city, means cleavage, cleavage, cleavage'. Nobody else can pull this off - to sing something so specific, ridiculous, and left-field with such dramatic flair without compromising its intended severity or levity. They make the experiences written in the song feel entirely her own, as opposed to generic writings that could apply to just about anyone. Regina is a goddess of post-modern, antifolk pianist precisely because of stuff like that.
In my most recent revisiting of this album, I've grown to love the song 'Field Below', featuring a freaking Er Hu played by Zhao Gang. 'That Time' never lost its vibe: a wonderful love letter to self-destructive youth that sounds like your drunk friend telling you a story of their wild adventures. 'Edit' is such a funny song it hurts ("You don't even have good credit/You can write, but you can't edit)
Regina Spektor never lost her prowess in her newer materials, and she possibly got more dramatic and theatrical as time passes. Her persona remains to be that of a pianist whose piano has wheels and its travelling across a huge variety of locations, and in Begin to Hope (quoting from the thank yous on the liner notes ) she's been "on tour, in hotel rooms, by candle light, on the 13th century, and a war". All of that shows in the depth of the album. Long live our oft-kilter Queen.