Regina Spektor: Soviet Kitsch

Jill LaBrack

Earnestness, a cloying quality in most music, becomes the secret to this piano-based singer/songwriter's success.

Regina Spektor

Soviet Kitsch

Label: Shoplifter
US Release Date: 2005-03-01
UK Release Date: 2004-07-19
Amazon affiliate

Regina Spektor's Soviet Kitsch begins with the sound of a heartbeat. Not much could be more appropriate than this. This is a record that is nothing if not messily human. It veers in one direction only to turn around and go in the other. It offers sage truths and then dumps a juvenile clunker on your head. It sounds like a cabaret show if cabaret were invented in the 21st century by intelligent, sarcastic adolescents who not only stole their parents' Philip Glass and David Bowie records, but then listened to them while flipping through nudie magazines found in an older brother's room, trying to waste their days away until they grew up and could actually do something.

This would seem to be a good time for Regina Spektor to be around. She could sell her hip sensitive wares to the hyper-cool Strokes audience (whom she opened for), steal the critics' accolades away from Nellie McKay, and then become the purchase for young-ish professionals looking for somewhat edgy dinner music to play as the discussion turns to the latest Wes Anderson film. All of these could, and should, apply to Ms. Spektor. The combination of these disparate possible audiences could be a negative quality, as if the artist had spread herself too thin. Instead, perhaps due to her young age (mid-20s, albeit old by manufactured-band standards) and/or background (born and lived in Russia until nine, then moved to the Bronx), she sounds simply earnest. Earnest enough to appeal to a broad spectrum of people. Earnest enough to have recorded a CD that is, despite some annoying overindulgences, quite confident and even beautiful.

Regina Spektor plays the piano and somehow, that always seems to involve a bit of the melodrama, at least in popular music. On Soviet Kitsch, that melodrama is leveled out to draw the listener in first. "Poor Little Rich Boy" compels with its sparse beginning, jaunting piano and drum stick hitting wood, this suddenly shifting as a multitude of words are crammed into two measures, the artist playing a caffeinated slam poet. This is confounding, but only for a moment, as the song moves back into the original timing as quickly as it left it. The song ends as Ms. Spektor, sounding increasingly frustrated, sings, "You're so young / You're so goddamn young" over and over. "Carbon Monoxide" is similar in that the piano melody is slow and charming, while the lyrics include the lines "If I don't got my socks on right / They slide right off of my feet", continuing with "As I walkawalkawalkawalkawalk" ("walk" being repeated seemingly countless times). The effect of the quirky songwriting style (vocals and words only; the music itself is always classy) is numbing at first. The first few plays require a bit of patience, but this is a unique new talent. Like listening to PJ Harvey or Shannon Wright, having patience pays off. At first, you may frown at the lack of subtlety, but then the songs are in your head and you can't get them out. You start to appreciate all the messy idealism of them. In that sense, "Carbon Monoxide" goes on, the instruments breaking down for Regina Spektor to begin crooning, "C'mon, daddy". The result is devastating.

That is not to say that all of these tracks need to be overcome by the listener. Most of the songs on Soviet Kitsch are compelling from first listen. "Ode to Divorce" is a great dive into the ambiguity of relationships. "Somedays" could be a collaboration between Carole King and Joni Mitchell. "Us", the best song on the record, sounds like a New England autumn, biking down a trail littered with brightly-colored leaves. It could be taken from a soundtrack to a slow-moving film with exceptional dialogue, such as Breaking Away or Ordinary People. It sounds like life.

Soviet Kitsch is not for every mood, but neither are a lot of great records. It has terrible cover art and a title that suggests that the artist is also not taking herself as seriously as she should. Hopefully, that will come in time. There may not be a theme, nor a cohesive plan at all other than to play whatever has come to mind, but with repeated listens this simply does not matter. For now, we have a record of seriously good songs. And that is where some earnestness should pay off for the listener.






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.