Chris Donaghey
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September 14, 2006
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Regina Spektor
Begin to Hope

Though her career is still fledgling and her name will likely never reach the respect annals of a Tori Amos or a Björk, Regina Spektor has already carved herself a unique niche. Her early works up to and including the buzzworthy Soviet Kitsch painted her as an intellectual ingénue, too poetic and eccentric for modern radio but a bit too tame for vehement underground acclaim. Now, in the midst of ever-increasing interest in the “anti-folk” scene, she releases Begin to Hope, an album that attempts to reconcile all her kaleidoscopic facets into a luminous whole.

Right from the start, it’s blatantly clear that Regina has changed her tune. That is not so much a pun as it is a statement on her shift from brazen eccentricity to a more restrained and accessible chanteuse. The woman who enchanted us with her quirky yet captivating imperfections on singles like “Us” has set her sights on using her delicate vocal range as a precision tool rather than a flamboyant centerpiece. “Fidelity” is definitive evidence of this. Set to Spektor’s classically trained piano chords and whispery instrumentation, the universal struggle of unabashed love versus self-preservation dances elegantly from the crevasses of her mind.

Shocking to followers of the anti-folk scene is that it is not unnerving or challenging at all in sound. “Samson” is far more Sarah McLachlan than Joanna Newsom. In fact, this Bible fan fiction (not as bad as it sounds) would not sound out of place on the local adult contemporary radio station. Stranger still is “Better,” a lovelorn blast that harkens back to soundtracks from late 1990s teen romantic comedies. It is insidiously catchy and you want to sing along, but the question starts to present itself: is this another case of compromised personal sound and values to sell music to a larger audience? Maybe so. However, in this case, the sound is all that truly differs from her previous albums. The intelligentsia still has many quirky references and chameleonic metaphors to hang its hats upon. “On the Radio” mixes shout outs to “November Rain” with poetic asides about self-reflection and bettering yourself while “Après Moi” is a daunting and sinister masterpiece that swells in three languages, telling the listener to ‘beware of the lame/they’ll inherit your legs/be afraid of the old/they’ll inherit your soul.’

Much of Begin to Hope plays itself out in a similar fashion, allowing the heart and soul of the music to shine through the potential fogs of eccentricity. That sounds like a step in the right direction rather than an artistic compromise. Granted, “That Time” rips a loop that would make Kelly Clarkson salivate, but Regina turns it into quick-striking social commentary with vocal stylings that are distinctively her own. Those cynics who believe that more refined production and a more focused vision detract from true artistry are not looking to the core of Regina Spektor’s progression. What we have here is elegant, albeit occasionally flawed, maneuvering from the sacred to the profane of artistry and life and back again, fence straddling of a wonderful variety. In her own words, 'Après moi le deluge/after me comes the flood'; if this is the case, we could all use a good shower.

Release date: June 13, 2006
Label: Sire
Rating: 7.9 / 10

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