It’s been over four years since we last heard from Regina Spektor, with You’ve Got Time, the theme to Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black TV show, being her sole recorded output in that time. It’s fair to say that particular song has introduced her to a whole new audience, who may be a bit bemused if they revisit her back catalogue – her older songs featuring, at times, sections sung in Latin or Russian, weird vocal tics and dips into hip-hop, classical music and folk.
Listening to Remember Us To Life makes those days feel like a long time ago though. Although there are hints at that early strangeness, Spektor’s seventh album continues her progression towards the mainstream, and while there’s nothing wrong with her becoming a more commercial proposition, you do sometimes yearn for that early rawness. It’s her first album of completely new songs (previous records have included tracks written several years beforehand), and it’s fascinating to hear her evolution as an artist.
What remains constant though is the inability to pigeon Spektor into any particular type of genre. It’s mostly piano-driven pop, which on the surface sounds very sweet and catchy, but there’s a hint of darkness constantly bubbling underneath. There’s also some undoubted forays into whimsy, which won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it’s mostly a pretty smooth transition from the last album What We Saw From The Cheap Seats.
Small Bill$, despite that rather cringey dollar sign in the title, is one of the album highlights with Spektor half-rapping lines like “they can either wake up or go deeper but it’s so dangerous to wake a deep sleeper”, while opening track Bleeding Heart could easily belong on Begin To Hope, starting off naggingly catchy before taking a pleasingly left-field turn towards the end as synths and drums pile on top of each other. At the other end of the scale is the straight-ahead piano ballad The Light, a mediation on ageing and mortality (“so many things I know, but they don’t help me”).
There are a couple too many lapses into blandness – Black And White isn’t a particularly bad song, it’s just a bit ordinary given what we know Spektor is capable of, and Older And Taller feels oddly jarring, especially in her delivery of the line “enjoy your youth, sounds like a threat, but I will anyway”. Yet, as ever with Spektor, there’s not much danger of being bored: The Trappier And The Furrier is a wonderfully dramatic number which begins in ghostly fashion as Spektor sings unaccompanied, before a swirling mist of strings descend upon her. “What a strange strange world we live in” she sings – it’s impossible to disagree, and this is its perfect soundtrack.
It’s moments like this, or the charmingly pretty Grand Hotel or the thrilling, violin-assisted Tornadoland, that remind you that Regina Spektor is still one of the most idiosyncratic songwriters writing today. She’s come a long way from those more quirky days, but Remember Us To Life is a good reminder that Spektor is still more than capable of conjuring up moments of magic.