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Regina Spektor
far - Sire
FILTER Grade: 82%

By Kyle Lemmon on November 20, 2009

 

Regina Spektor

The lowercase ‘f’ in far is telling. The title to Regina Spektor’s ambitious, long-awaited fifth album reads as a knowing wink to the Russian-born, Jewish-American singer-songwriter’s rapturous worship of the ephemera that clutters all our lives. In the past, that Spektorian transient material ran the gamut from a suave, lockless Samson munching Wonder Bread (“Samson”) to a divorcée approximated as an unsavory morsel of food stuck in between molars (“Ode to Divorce”). The East Villager’s clipped syllables and anachronistic participles of speech rolled these micro-revelations off her tongue in quirky torrents. Self-released albums 11:11 (2001) and Songs (2002) sounded like a lo-fi basement cassette you’d find rolled up in somebody’s sock drawer—fusty memories of a clown laughing or crying alone.

So after the runaway Billboard success of 2006’s Begin to Hope, far aims to catalog the tiny accruements leading up to Spektor’s arrival. Her new environs are distinctly different to the basement recordings of her past, but the friends she brings along preserve some of the intimacy and spontaneity of the dramatis personae that earns her the adjective, “Spektorian.” Three iconic producers—Mike Elizondo (Dr. Dre, Eminem), Jeff Lynne (ELO, Tom Petty, George Harrison, Traveling Wilburys) and Garret “Jacknife” Lee (R.E.M., Weezer) take the helm. Bouncy opener “The Calculation” is an in-studio jam (a first for Spektor) with Elizondo. Spektor recounts two domestic love doves constructing a computer out of macaroni pieces. The breezy piano narrative taps into Spektor’s bifurcated personae—calculated classical training relentlessly tugging against her goofiest inclinations. When one wins out over the other, it usually spells failure. There’s a good deal of pratfall and triumph on far. The Traveling Wilbury-like cut by Lynne (“The Folding Chair”) is an endearing piece of piano pap. The boastful female protagonist, who catches sweat with her eyelashes, starts to bark like a dolphin (read: seal). The beautiful wordless chorus of the introspective “Eet” is much better. It makes sense, because if far were a party, there might be more wallflowers than dancers.
  
That’s a novel move and a humorless detriment on Spektor’s part. Sure, the soundtrack-ready “Imagine”-esque ballad “Laughing With” will get mass play from Grey’s Anatomy, but its lyrical revelations about god are somewhat trite. Elsewhere, the Elizondo-produced robot slow-burner “Machine” recalls the brilliant Russian cabaret pieces at the tail end of Hope (“Lady” and “20 Years of Snow”). Lynne has most of the winning productions here, and the haunting “Genius Next Door” is certainly the best. It recalls the singer’s passion for ephemera in a way that the next song in the tracklisting echoes without pretension—“Wallet” is a delightfully unadorned tale of someone finding another’s wallet…and taking it back to Blockbuster Video.

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