When Regina Spektor put out the brilliant "Soviet Kitsch," a lot of people hailed it as a great debut. Of course, it was actually her third album, after the equally brilliant "Songs" and "11:11."
The highlights of those albums are collected in "Mary Ann meets the Gravediggers and Other Short Stories," a sort of best-of collection for anyone who can't locate those first two albums. In other words, this best-of collection is a gorgeous collection of vibrantly eccentric songs.
There's no real order to these songs either. "Mary Ann" veers madly from one album to the next, and most of the songs selected are perhaps deliberately her quirkier ones. You won't find the bittersweet pensiveness of "Ode to Divorce" or any of her quieter songs.
Instead "Mary Ann" is dominated by the thumping insults of "Sailor Song," the rapid-fire minimalist anthem "Oedipus," the dancey scatting of "Pavlov's Daughter," and the rambling, bittersweet pop song about a poor little rich boy, with Spektor changing speeds at a second's notice. "You don't love your giiiirlfriend/And you think... that you should... but shethinksthatshe'sfat/Butsheisn'tbutyoudon'tloveheranyway!"
The high points are the rippling beauty of "Us" ("They made a statue of us/and put it on a mountaintop/now tourists come and stare at us...") and the exquisite "Love Affair," which tells of a love affair, "the kind of love affair/which every respectable building must keep as a legend."
Regina Spektor is often compared to Tori Amos and Fiona Apple, mainly because she plays piano, and they can't find anyone else she is even remotely comparable to. Instead, Spektor plays her music as if piano and strings have been discovered for the very first time, and she is pioneering a new, brave musical style.
Her use of piano and strings is pretty unconventional (and I mean that in the best way), with jagged cello and sharp piano notes, along with a few tambourines, drums and thumping feets. It's part anti-folk, part coffeehouse blues, part oddball pop, and Spektor does it with comfortable flair.
And she can do the coolest things with her edgy voice. "Chemo Limo" is almost entirely blurted out in rapid-fire songs ("IcanaffordchemolikeIcanaffordalimo..."), but can switch to a sweet soaring trill in songs like "Us," where she ripples all over the phrase "we're living in a den of thieves."
For a look back on the now-flourishing career of this insanely talented singer/musician, "Mary Ann Meets the Gravediggers" can't be beat. A treasure.