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What We Saw From The Cheap Seats
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2012 album from the critically adored singer/songwriter. What We Saw From The Cheap Seats was recorded over an eight week period during the summer of 2011 in Los Angeles. Spektor wrote each of the 11 tracks on the album. She arrived at the session with a collection of new compositions, but others were pulled from earlier periods. She and producer Mike Elizondo fleshed out instrumentation and sought to make each of the songs stand alone sonically. Most of the songs were recorded live with Spektor on piano and vocals, while additional instrumentation was added to these original takes.
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Of coarse the music itself is amazing!
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WHAT WE SAW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS is hard to predict. Not only do songs range in tempo, tone, and mood from one song to the next, these shifts can happen mid-song (notably in the album opener "Small Town Moon.") Listeners can, however, expect the impulse-driven piano pop that mixes blends of genre, nonsense, and convention. The changes in style never feel like Spektor is aping a genre or playing the chameleon; instead, it feels as if Spektor's imagination is running wild in the studio. The result is an interesting, fun album.
The opening "Small Town Moon" begins as a conventional piano pop song, but it soon gives way to typical Spektor mannerisms (starts, stops, repetition, etc...) before ultimately opening up into a stomping chant of "Everybody not so nice, nice." It's hard to really describe it, but it's great fun to experience. "Oh Marcello" is similar in its unpredictability, ranging from wild falsettos to beatboxing from Spektor. This is followed by "Don't Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)," a song that incorporates hints of tropical music with horns and a Russian chorus. Not all of the songs on the album are quite so wild; "Firewood" is a simple, soulful song composed Spektor's piano and a drumset -- it makes for one of the most inspired passes of Spektor's lyricism. The only real problem I have with CHEAP SEATS is that it feels scattershot. Some of the songs feel less developed than others (compare "All the Rowboats" to "Ballad of a Politician," for example). While the album gets a strong start, the Beatles-esque closer, "Jessica" doesn't quite feel like a good way to wrap up the album.
Recommended sampling: "Small Town Moon," "All the Rowboats," and "Oh Marcello". Fans of Fiona Apple and Feist will probably find a lot to like here. If you like any of Spektor's previous releases, this album is worth you time and money.
ADDITIONAL RELEASE INFO: A deluxe edition of WHAT WE SAW FROM THE CHEAP SEATS was released. If contains three songs that didn't make it onto the album. These songs are: Call Them Brothers (feat. Only Son), Old Jacket (Stariy Pidjak), and The Prayer Of François Villon (Molitva). These songs are good, but "Call Them Brothers" rises above the rest and is definitely worth seeking out. The other two are covers of Russian songs; they feature Spektor alone with her piano.
There are several standouts, beginning with the album's opening track, "Small Town Moon", a song that sounds as if it would easily have been at home on her excellent "Begin to Hope" album, at least that is until the song changes tone and goes off in a new (and not unpleasant) direction 90 seconds in, before returning. Equally strong are "All the Rowboats", "Ballad of a Politician" and "Firewood", which wasn't originally a favorite of mine until one lyric really stood out. Many songs deal with aging/getting older, and the verse "You'll want to go back, You'll wish you were small, Nothing can slow the crying, You'll take the clock off of your wall, And you'll wish it was lying" certainly resonates, but it is a preceding line that really conjures up mental images, and it made me smile while listening to it: "Someday you'll wake up and feel a great pain, And you'll miss every toy you ever owned". Sweet, bittersweet and heartbreaking all at once.
"How" is a delicate, vulnerable post-break-up, how-do-I-go-on-without-you song, a topic that lyrically has been mined to death, but Regina pulls it off spectacularly, and it's one of my favorites on the album. Musically, (and thematically, to an extent) the track is reminiscent of Sam Cooke's wonderful "Bring it on Home". "Don't Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)" takes on a decidedly Carribean tone, complete with a marimba, an instument somwhat similar to a xylophone in that it consists of wodden bars struck with mallets. The track easily could find a place on the next Jimmy Buffet album. If there is one song to pass over, it is "Oh Marcello", which finds Spektor, with her Russian accent, singing in English, affecting a faux Italian accent. It's as messy as it sounds.
The album ends with a dramatic departure with "Jessica". If you're familiar with her excellent "Live in London" album (and if you're not, you should be!), you'll know it ends with a twangy, countrified "Love you're a Whore", which really stood apart from the 21 other tracks on the album. "Jessica" is as radically a depature from the rest of "What We Saw" as "Love is a Whore" is on "Live in London". It is a simple, stark closer, gone is Spektor's trademark piano, replaced with an acoustic guitar. It's a fine song, but at less than 2 minutes long it doesn't resonate too heavily.
If there is one complaint, and I do feel it is a valid one, is that the album is FAR too brief. At 11 tracks, the album clocks in at a paltry 37 minutes. Of the 11 tracks, 5 of them fail to crack the 3-minute mark. Not that song/album length dictates quality, but the inability to extend songs beyond two-and-a-half minutes leaves many of the songs feeling incomplete or not fully fleshed out. Many could use another verse to fully explore the ideas, particularly "Ballad of a Politician" which just leaves you wanting more. Regina gave an excellent interview, where she stated she has "dozens and dozens and dozens" of old tunes banging around. She went on to say "I always had this feeling like there's a giant pile of songs and they're all waiting for their turn to be worked on, to be cared for, and be noticed". Regina began her career using free studio time given to her by a friend. Being Jewish, Regina recorded snippets of songs on Christmas day, a time when the studio wasn't booked. Due to time contraints, often tracks were recorded in a single take, so it's because of this Regina has felt a compulsion to revisit her back-catalogue. She has repeatedly gone "back to the well" and revisited songs from her past (see "Samson" from Begin to Hope which originally appeared on the album "Songs" as well as "What We Saw's" "Don't Leave Me" which was also found on "Songs"). It is precisely because of this fact (Regina's claims to have a backlog of songs, as well as her willingness to re-visit older material) that "What We Saw's" brevity is so frustrating. If you're a fan, you'll want MORE, and will be left feeling that "What We Saw from the Cheap Seats", while being a worthy effort, is somehow incomplete.
I've enjoyed all of Regina's work so far. She never dissapoints and is a gifted talent. This record shows how well she has grown into an amazing writer of more commercial songs but still stay true to her unique style which is equally amazing. I loved Begin To Hope and Far and this new record is another winner. It's only 36 mintues long but is worth every second. Well done Regina!
The reason I rated What We Saw From The Cheap Seats three stars is because some of the songs are too polished for my liking. For example, I strongly prefer the version of Ne Me Quitte Pas on Songs (2002) to the version on What We Saw From The Cheap Seats.
I thought some of the songs on Far (2009) were too polished as well, and I was hoping What We Saw From The Cheap Seats would have a more raw sound like Spektor's earlier albums.
The album Live in London (2010) includes performances of songs from Far that I think are better (less polished, more raw) than the studio recordings. Hopefully, Spektor will release a live album that includes songs from What We Saw From The Cheap Seats.