Album Review: Regina Spektor, “Begin To Hope” (2006)

I believe I first saw Regina Spektor during an appearance on a late night show. I was instantly intrigued by her performance- there was something about the way she passionately pounded on the piano, and I loved her distinctive vocals. I had her song stuck in my head all evening afterwards, and knew I had to hear more from her.

Spektor’s fourth studio album, Begin To Hope, encompasses everything I love about the artist and her music. The disc is a wonderful collection of smartly written songs, superbly produced songs (done by Spektor and producer David Kahne, whom has also worked with Paul McCartney and The Strokes), with infectious melodies and beautiful vocals.

“I never loved nobody fully, always one foot on the ground,” Spektor sings in the opening lines of what’s arguably her most successful song, Fidelity. The cheery accompaniment includes piano, maracas and drumming, but the buoyant melody is just one asset to the song’s enjoyment. Here, the lyrics paint a perfectly pessimistic view at love and relationships (“Suppose I never ever met you/Suppose we never fell in love/Suppose I never ever let you/Kiss me so sweet and so soft”), and the track was the one that made me first fall in love with Spektor and her music.

Though Fidelty was the first song I loved, bittersweet ballad, Samson, is my absolute favourite on the album. Production is stripped back to a few chords on the piano and a deliberately hushed vocal delivery from Spektor. Lyrically, the song draws comparisons from the Biblical Samson and Delilah story to the decline of a modern-day relationship (“Oh, we couldn’t bring the columns down/Yeah, we couldn’t destroy a single one/And history books forgot about us/And the Bible didn’t mention us/Not even once”). The vulnerability in the lyrics and Spektor’s sweet falsetto create a breathtakingly beautiful sound, and the ballad is one of the most heartfelt and emotional songs I’ve ever heard.

Hotel Song is probably the second-best song on the album. The upbeat melody and energetic drum loop make up an incredibly fun sound, but the catchy refrain (“Come into my world I’ve got to show/Show, show you/Come into my bed I’ve got to know/Know, know you/I have dreams of Orca whales and owls/But I wake up in fear/You will never be my, you will never be my/Dear, will never be my dear, dear friend”) is the part that stays with me long after I’ve finished listening.

Regina Spektor Tel Aviv 2

One thing that can be easily said about Spektor and her music is that it’s very unique. Après Moi is a dark sounding number; Spektor pounds ominously on the keys, and even her vocals are deeper than usual, especially as she spit outs an entire verse in her native Russian language. 20 Years of Snow sounds like something from a fairytale, with the dreamy chimes and whimsical-sounding piano that plays throughout the track. She sings in her upper register during the middle of the song, just adding to the fanciful feeling.

There are more “traditional” rock songs scattered throughout the album, though.  Better is a mid-tempo piano ballad, with a memorable chorus (“If I kiss you where it’s sore/Will you feel better, better, better, better?/Will you feel anything at all?”). On The Radio, appropriately enough, is a radio-friendly pop/rock song with another distinctive piano-heavy melody. That Time sounds like a full-blown rock song- there’s electric guitar and Spektor seductively growls her way through the verses. The lyrics are  clever (“Hey remember that time we decided to kiss anywhere except the mouth/Hey remember that time when my favorite colors were pink and green/Hey remember that month when I only ate boxes of tangerines”), and the song is another of the album’s highlights. Edit is also a “harder” rock song, with slick production featuring digitized sounds and thudding percussion.

Spektor experimented with jazz music on her previous releases and she returns to the sound with Lady. The jazz ballad is an interesting change in pace musically; gone is the loud piano and drums that have become a mainstay for most of the album, only to be replaced by a softer piano and a saxophone. Spektor does jazz well, however; her vocals are warm and the lyrics (“Lady sing the blues so well/As if she mean it/As if it’s hell down here/In the smoke-filled world”) are fitting for a torch song.

The disc ends with another ballad, Summer in the City. The song starts innocently enough, with melodious piano and a carefree feeling, when suddenly Spektor hilariously interjects, “Summer in the city, means cleavage, cleavage, cleavage”. The quirky ballad is an excellent end to the album.

Begin To Hope is the perfect introductory album to Regina Spektor‘s music. The disc is a mixture of Spektor’s more experimental songs and sounds, though also includes more straightforward/catchy indie-rock stuff. The best part, however, is that all of the songs are so greatly written and performed that the album is enjoyable all the way through.

Rating: 5 stars
Track List
1. Fidelity
2. Better
3. Samson
4. On The Radio
5. Field Below
6. Hotel Song
7. Après Moi
8. 20 Years Of Snow
9. That Time
10. Edit
11. Lady
12. Summer In The City

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wigqKfLWjvM]
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