It’s taken me a long time to warm up to Regina Spektor. I’m not sure I knew who she was or had heard her music until I got to college. When I first heard her, my reaction was strong and negative. Her music was almost intolerable to me. I hated the inconsistency of her voice. Some of her vocal acrobatics made me really uncomfortable, and I remember squirming at the brashness of the lyrics.
Now, of course, it’s difficult for me to even find an adequate example of what I mean. But just listen to this and tell me it doesn’t make you feel a teensy bit uneasy:
As a singer myself, I felt that she didn’t have enough control over her voice– some of the lyrics weren’t even sung, and she would punctuate the lines with harsh gasps, tongue clicks, and other weird noises. Her range is inconsistent, she adds strange vocal effects, and she emphasizes no-beat-in-particular. What the hell?
In addition, I got the impression that she was popular with a certain crowd– lesbians, specifically. Without paying much attention to her lyrics or who she was, I assumed that she and her songs were so “weird” because she was trying to be that out-of-the-box, you-can’t-tell-me-to-sing-pretty-like-a-typical-girl type of singer-songwriter.
Gay or not, I believed that voices should sound good. If you’re going to take a political stance, do it with your actions– don’t alienate a potential audience because you’re trying to be off-puting.
After I stopped making assumptions like that and being really fucking narrow-minded about what singers should sound like, I started appreciating Billie Holiday, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and everyone else who actually has an interesting style and is worth some damn respect. And, eventually, I started appreciating Regina, too.
Regina would accompany me on my all-too-infrequent jogging sessions and evenings of frustrated room cleaning. I was hesitant to inflict her on anyone else, however… until her latest album, “What We Saw From The Cheap Seats,” came out.
One day, I heard “Ne Me Quitte Pas” and became obsessed with it within the first few piano notes. By the end of the day, I’d played that song fifteen times and listened to the full album (all of which is spectacular) three times. I re-added the miscellaneous Regina songs I had onto my iPod and drove around blasting her unique, slightly-wacky voice, not really caring if it made anyone uncomfortable.
Also, she’s very pretty. Especially when she’s singing about France and breaking glass and surrounding herself with tulips and soft lighting, and talking to crotchety old men:
But, while 4 years ago I wouldn’t have thought it possible that Regina Spektor would ever “sell out,” I’m afraid that may have happened with this album. To my ears, it is by far her tamest album, and I think it’s more commercialized. Not that I don’t buy into the hype…
Here’s a version of the same song from all the way back in 2001:
It’s more raw, more honest, more complete, more interesting. What happened? I’m thrilled that more people will probably appreciate her most recent album, because she deserves that… but at what cost?
While I once had an idea that she was unnecessarily alienating an audience that she could earn by just being more… normal… I now believe that a truly great artist will choose to alienate those people. Who wants fans with such low standards, anyway?
And while I once thought she had little-to-no control over her voice, I now think it takes extraordinary vocal strength to have her range and manipulate her tone quality like she does. It’s incredible.
So, like most late-comers, I feel like I should be rewarded for my conversion. Since I now appreciate her natural vocal talents, why won’t she reward me by using them on her newer songs?
It’s okay; I’ll wait. If she’s a deity of any sort, then she won’t go.