Album Review: Regina Spektor’s Remember Us to Life
Remember Us to Life is yet another excellent offering from singer-songwriter Regina Spektor, which came out September 30th this year. Originally from Russia, Spektor is known for breathy and enunciated vocals, clever lyrics and music that occasionally mixes electronic sounds with acoustic instrumentation. Like her past three albums or so, Remember Us to Life, her seventh album, presents her usual mix of songs that cover themes that are at once eerie and beautiful, charming and melancholy. Her first few albums showed an evolution of sound, but by the time Begin to Hope came out in 2006, her style had reached the point it would stay at for the next decade.
From the very first track, “Bleeding Heart” (which was also the album’s first single), I found myself nodding in time with the music and singing along to the chorus. This is her most dance-y song on this album, though other tracks from earlier albums are better examples (“Dance Anthem of the 80s” from Far).
In “Older and Taller,” Spektor’s songwriting talent shines through. The lyrics and rhymes are brilliant, and cover a theme that I see running through much of her music: a deconstruction of the false selves that we present to the world. Spektor digs down into who we are deep inside, revealing ugly truths, but it is these truths that show our real humanity. Spektor sings, “I remembered you older and taller/but you’re younger and smaller/so who’s gonna call her/and say that you’re back again.” From these lyrics, we realize as we grow up that our role models are as flawed as ourselves. “Tornadoland” also shows how Spektor can turn a good metaphor into an excellent song. She sings about how you want to be heard, sometimes “louder than the storms around you.” Descending scales and wild strings illustrate the blowing winds that represent the tornado.
Many of Spektor’s songs are dreamy and emphasize her beautiful voice. “Grand Hotel,” sung in a flowing 6/8 time, is a good example. She takes the subject of a grand hotel and tells a story—one in which we all act as the characters in this portrayal of humans who live and love. Her lullaby-esque “Black and White,” sounds like a 90s ballad, with a gentle swing to the percussion and synth piano. Spektor asks the question, “Why should I wait for tomorrow?” I interpret this as one of her heartbreak songs (such as “How” from What We Saw from the Cheap Seats). These songs about love and loss are powerful, and are among my favorites from her albums, like “Fidelity” and “The Calculation.” The instrumentals are toned down in “The Light,” which is punctuated with a variation of the opening phrase, “The light was shining in my eyes.” Spektor repeats this throughout the song in melodious notes, symbolizing a celebration of life that stirs up my emotions every time I hear it.
Spektor can be eerie when she wants. In every Spektor album, there is at least one song that stands out for its darker sound. “Small Bill$” is one example in Remember Us to Life. Backed up with drums, low-pitched strings and a chorus of lilting voices, Spektor returns again and again to this image—“All the poets in the alley coughing up blood/and their visions and their dreams are coming up red/they can neither wake up or go deeper/but it’s so dangerous to wake a deep sleeper.” Later, in “The Trapper and the Furrier,” she tells a parable about modern society. Her chorus sarcastically states, “What a strange, strange world we live in/where the good are damned and the wicked forgiven.” The beating drums, piano, and strings emphasize the corruption that Spektor is addressing.
Some of the eeriest music comes from songs that are relatable on a deep level. “Obsolete: begins with the words “This is how I feel right now,” as Spektor reveals how she feels like a manuscript with missing pages. Undeniably, Spektor touches feelings that we can all relate to with lyrics like “Useless heart/this useless heart” and “Why am I incomplete?” These moments of doubt and questioning are conveyed so hauntingly. My favorite track is “Sellers of Flowers.” An accompanying orchestra and frequent modulations portray an eerie sense of impending doom, as Spektor sings about a marketplace where roses are sold, despite how these flowers are dead by morning. She asks, “Who is the winner,” followed with “Not the roses/not the buyers/not the sellers/maybe Winter.” I am chilled every time I listen to the track.
Regina Spektor remains one of my favorite artists, and I believe she shows great versatility in her songs, always delivering sincere, heartfelt music. I feel like I almost know Spektor personally, because of how she opens to her listeners. “I’m so glad that you came in,” she sings in her concluding track, “The Visit.” I’m glad I came in too.