Regina Spektor – Soviet Kitsch (2005)

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by Mark Saleski

Call me easily amused, by I’m a sucker for a girl who accompanies herself at the piano by whackin’ a chair with a drumstick. That was how Regina Spektor sang the sassy “Poor Little Rich Boy.” One hand for piano chords, the other for abusing a wooden surface with a stick.

You’d think that that little trick might get tiresome even over the course of the one song, but the cool push and pull of the lyrics turns the whole thing into a pop/art event. The lyric fragment: “You don’t love your girlfriend” is delivered in the same amount of time as its completion: “…and you think that you should but she thinks that she’s fat but she isn’t but you don’t love her anyway.”

It’s that Bjork-ish idea of applying a solvent to the language that made this record so interesting.

Soviet Kitsch opens with the downcast (and rightly so!) “Ode To Divorce.” That gentle (and very, very beautiful) voice with repeated piano figure is very effective. Jane Scarpantoni’s cello adds a definite cinematic quality. Again, Spektor plays the word game near the end of the song by riding words like “small” and “doses” over descending melodies with three and four syllables each.

I’ve gotta say here that I was very taken with this recording from the first listen. But … I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what was doing it for me. Then I realized that Spektor does something with her words that resonates with me: if necessary, she’s completely willing to abandon a rhyme scheme. It’s a great device for making a point (the above “Poor Little Rich Boy” lyrics being a fine example). There are many others.

And there’s the music. It’s pop balladry, it’s burlesque (the Dresden Dolls might be a good reference point), it’s Russian folk music (only occasionally, but especially near the end of “Flowers”), it’s almost operatic. And, most surprisingly, it’s punk.

OK, only one song fits that description, “Your Honor.” It shows up right in the middle of the record and, if you’re not ready for it, it’s a brazen slap in the face. The whispered intro suckered me in as I turned up the volume to hear what was being said … only to have the snarling opening (“I kissed your lips and I tasted blood …”) almost blow me off the couch.

I hate to make the too-easy Tori reference here (because, really, aside from the obvious female voice + piano, the comparison ends there) but the one real similarity is this: my reaction to Soviet Kitsch was very similar to the one I had with Little Earthquakes. I finished listening and had a feeling that I’d just heard something astounding.

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