[25 January 2011]
Regina Spektor is one of those once-in-a-generation artists that seems to demand some sort of audience relationship to fully understand. Her lyricism is full of Garden State-esque quirks of specificity that feel non sequitur-like in their delivery, both full of and devoid of purpose. Over her career, she’s found her niche as the leader of the Lily Allen, Kate Nash-type female singer-songwriters that spend little time worrying whether the males are paying attention. In fact, most guys I know are only tangentially aware of her presence in the pop landscape, and the ones that are have generally come across her thanks to some girl at a liberal arts school that considers Spektor’s word gospel. Or perhaps I’m merely projecting my own experience onto everyone else.
The story with Spektor’s studio recordings has been one of a slow decline by the fans’ estimations, as her music has slowly receded from the quirky high water mark of Soviet Kitsch into more standardly aloof piano pop affairs. Many close fans claimed 2009’s Far seemed like a bit of a crux point, with some bemoaning they had lost ‘their’ Regina Spektor, perhaps for good. Despite all this pouting, Live in London draws mostly from her last two albums with a few dips into the bigger live hits of her old catalog. And perhaps because I’ve developed no real attachment to Spektor as a person, and regard her more simply as my best friend’s absolute favorite artist whom I’ve been forced to listen to again and again, this feels like the smart way to go. Even a cursory listen to her studio work reveals Spektor to be a grandly theatrical performer, and one would assume it is hard to perform the same play year after year without adding new flavors to it.
Live in London has a great pace to it, as Spektor starts out with some ballads before launching into some really interesting genre experiments. Anyone who’s spent a little time scouring true sailor songs will note the faithfulness with which she approaches the humorous folk subgenre with “Sailor Song”, while “Après moi” is a fascinating multi-lingual performance. “Dance Anthem of the ‘80s” nods more strongly at her pop stylings than most of the songs here, while “Bobbing for Apples” explores the curious nature of celebrity in typical Spektor quirk (“Someone’s next door fucking to one of my songs”). A lot of the songs here, although I fail to parse exactly why Spektor wrote them, are great at weaving their way into your skull, and she pulls them out at the right times always. “Eet” early, “Blue Lips” not much later, “The Calculation” in the middle, and “Samson” to bring things home. And she makes certain not to make any of these songs feel flatter than their studio counterparts thanks to some lively string arrangements and a great recording quality. There are even times, like the fantastically stillborn “Laughing With” from Far, where she brings a song out of the doldrums in surprising fashion. In fact, that track may be my personal favorite on the disc.
Live in London is definitely a satisfying release for any Spektor fan, and unlike a lot of albums, it doubles as a very good Greatest Hits-type of introduction to her sound for newcomers. You can feel the crowd’s reverence for her work as each song begins and ends, and you can plainly hear how talented this girl is, whether you agree with her approach fully or not. Some will definitely find Spektor too melodramatic or her quirks too forced, but frankly Live in London isn’t an album those folks will be looking for, anyway. It’s more a thank you to the fans that have watched her grow from cult antifolk hero to major label world tourer, a passionate performance from a performer that is more clearly attached to her work than many similar artists. If you counted yourself among the fans doubting whether Spektor still had an ‘it’ factor, needing an incentive to believe, Live in London should douse those flames of doubt easily.