Regina Spektor — Remember Us to Life — released 30 September 2016
After two mediocre albums and a grating intro to the even more grating Orange Is the New Black, I didn’t dare begin to hope that after Begin to Hope my interest in Regina Spektor would be rekindled. But parenthood usually alters a person’s outlook and an artist’s output and—perhaps the result of newly displaced anxieties and pressures—in her latest offering Spektor expresses herself with more natural and relaxed efficacy than in her previous albums: happily, Remember Us to Life comes across as less self-conscious and less self-indulgent both vocally and lyrically.
At its best, the album is laced with moments of melancholy and genuine feeling. Addressed mainly to her son from what I imagine as a sort of postpartum valley of loneliness, ‘The Light’ touches on that ineffable kind of depression where you can’t reconcile what you know with how you feel. Similarly melancholic, ‘Obsolete’ laments a loss of usefulness and relevance as Spektor compares herself to an obsolete manuscript; the lament is simple and beautiful, in no small part due to Spektor’s exceptional skill as a pianist. But on what is probably my favourite track, ‘Sellers of Flowers’, she exercises her talent for dramatic and vivid storytelling, allowing her words to tumble into each other as she gathers emotional momentum from recounting a memory evocative of her early childhood in Russia.
Of course, the album isn’t entirely comprised of gloomy ballads. ‘Small Bill$’ presents as the teenage lovechild of Tori Amos and M.I.A. (and is ridiculously titled), but I admit to finding it both catchy and enjoyable—and it’s hard for me to resist a chorus that refers to consumptive poets. However, as is the tendency when Spektor attempts overt social commentary, ‘Trappers and Furriers’ comes across as forced and uninteresting, numbering among a few filler tracks that I can live without.
For the most part and to her benefit, on this album Spektor resists her previous penchant for over-singing and vocal strain. She often finds a pleasurable mix between registers or gently flips into her upper range, still managing expression in her technique and further lending more maturity to her compositions. As someone who has listened to Spektor wail ‘and you’ve got time!’ over and over again during an increasingly irritating Netflix binge, Remember Us to Life provided a pleasant and gentle departure for me.
Without entirely relinquishing her characteristic sense of quirk, Spektor’s seventh album definitely feels more mature than its predecessors—and more cohesive. The cohesion is largely due to the cinematic string arrangements throughout, but there is also an emotional consistency that seems to underscore all the tracks. Spektor tells us she ‘wants to be heard’ and I do hope she will continue to find her voice in sincere ruminations that dwell in the grey between-ness of human experience.
Reviewed by Weekes Gaehl