This is the best birthday present I’ve gotten all year.
Regina Spektor’s third proper album, Far, is like that cynical older cousin who you love to sit next to at family functions. Totally funny, mostly good-natured, and both angry and delicious — angrilicious? — like the kind of person who says all the things you want to say but don’t.
And — uh — says them all in cute, random metaphors and rhyming couplets and sweet, sweet melodies.
After the meandering intro of “The Calculation” — a good, mid-tempo, semi-funked-out song about relationships, technology, and emotional indifference — we get a virtual onslaught of Regina with the instant hookiness, smileyness, and spine-tingling anticipation of the piano chords that lead into “Eet.”
The song might be named for its homonym, or it might be the way Spektor writes down her own whimsical non-word singing on paper. Then, when the drums come in — “You spend half of your life/trying to fall behind/using your headphones to drown out your mind” — the song becomes simultaneously triumphant and snarky. And it’s especially victorious when you consider it’s a song about hipster kids who are so preoccupied with looking cool that they forget how to dance. (That’s what I think it’s about, anyway.) Really, it’s a self-defeating argument — by the time you’re done analyzing, you’re hopping up and down in your desk chair, anyway.
A few weeks ago, we brought you from Regina Spektor’s new video, “Laughing With.” It’s been seized upon and passed around a fair bit among the Jewish bloggy folks, but I don’t think any of us have really given as much credence to the lyrics as they deserve.
No one laughs at God
When the doctor calls after some routine tests
No oneâ€™s laughing at God
When itâ€™s gotten real late
And their kidâ€™s not back from the party yet
So freakin’ true. And yet, if this wasn’t being sung within the context of an MTV video with cool effects and a Harry Potter-like Cloak of Invisibility, we’d probably freak out and call the writer a zealot or a fundamentalist.
But Spektor always likes to close her songs abruptly, which drove me crazy when “Better” was on the radio, or when I listened to her songs out of sequence on my iPod’s Party Shuffle (which, btw, I love saying, because I never actually use shuffle at parties, but I always feel like being at a party when I’m walking down the street and I select that option) — but which, taken on its own, is both wise and satisfying. The closing line of “Laughing With,” which fades out together with the song — “No oneâ€™s laughing at God/Weâ€™re all laughing with God” — is kind of the perfect paradigm of this. It’s winking at the listener and pulling the rug out from under our feet at the same time.
“Two Birds” is the natural offset to “Laughing With,” a parable about two birds that don’t trust each other. The chorus, “I’ll believe it all/There’s nothing I won’t understand/I’ll believe it all/I won’t let go of your hand,” speaks to our natural tendency to distrust each other, to get cold and clam up and retreat into our own little worlds.
To one extent or another, artists are all recluses. We hate other people. We distrust them and fear them and don’t want to trust our ideas with them, preferring instead to remain in our own little universes that we draw and write around ourselves. Again, witness the “Laughing With” video…or just try to talk to me while I’m writing in my notebook. And then, on the other side of the spectrum, we’re trying more than anything to understand the way people work, and get inside their heads, and to create a song or a story that’s bigger than ourselves.
I think what I love most about Regina Spektor is that she really gets both of these things. And both of them, she does so well.