Amanda Palmer, for instance, produced one of the finest albums of last year with Spektor’s influence written all over it, while Kate Nash has always been closer in style to the Moscow-born songwriter than she has been to Lily Allen. Even the more eccentric side of Florence & The Machine could count as a close Regina relation.
Spektor’s last album, Begin To Hope, saw her move away from the indie ghetto with a more commercialised sound. Far continues that journey (even ELO‘s Jeff Lynne is listed as one of the four producers) but has the sense to let her flights of fancy become gloriously unrestrained when she sees fit.
There’s no denying though that most of Far would sound quite at home ‘on the radio’, to quote one of her earlier tracks. The Calculation, which opens the album, marries a jaunty piano hook with sad lyrics about a disintegrating relationship and quickly establishes itself as one of her best songs. The fact that her vocal is also given free rein to perform her trademark kooks and inflection is also a promising sign.
Lyrically, although she can still be obtuse, there’s a sense of big issues being deliberated on. Religion in particular hangs heavy over Far – lead single Laughing With questions whether anyone can truly be an atheist, especially in situations such as “famine, fire or flood” or “when they see the one they love hand in hand with someone else and they hope that they’re mistaken”. It’s a beautiful track, set to one of her most heartbreaking melodies, that succeeds in being thought-provoking while avoiding po-facedness.
Blue Lips also addresses themes of faith and spirituality, but it’s comforting to know that the old, somewhat quirky, Regina is still there. For evidence, see Folding Chair, in which she brilliantly tosses off lines like “I’ve got a perfect body, ’cause my eyelashes catch my sweat” before performing an impression of a dolphin during the chorus. Really.
The mysteriously titled Eet is also a highlight, employing all manner of tempo changes and urgent, rushing piano chords, before a brilliant ending where Spektor sings “You can’t remember; you try to feel the beat…”, and if you listen carefully, you can hear her carefully whispering a drumbeat under her breath.
The second half of the album is more reflective, but no less rewarding. The stunning Genius Next Door tells the poignant tale of a local misfit kid who appears to drown himself – lines such as “in the morning the film crews start arriving with doughnuts, coffee and reporters, the kids were waking up, hung over” are almost cinematic in their descriptions.
Genius Next Door segues beautifully into The Wallet, which attempts to decode the life of a stranger who loses his wallet by piecing together little details such as a Blockbuster card and “a crumpled receipt for a pair of leather boots”. There’s no great resolution to the song, just the notion that Spektor will return the wallet to Blockbuster, safe in the knowledge that she’s made a stranger happy. It’s beautiful in its simplicity.
Die-hard Spektor fans may be alarmed at the presence of producers such as Lynne and Jacknife Lee (who produced Snow Patrol) but they should not fear. Far is her best album yet, and while it’s a long way from early works such as Soviet Kitsch or 11:11, it perfectly illustrates the evolution of a woman who’s becoming a truly great artist.