Regina Spektor - Home, Before and After review: Bigger budget, same rich imagination

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 (Shervin Lainez)
(Shervin Lainez)

In the movie world, an indie director who can do something special on a tiny sum is occasionally given the keys to a blockbuster franchise. Here’s a musical equivalent. New York pianist Regina Spektor started out in the early 2000s writing solo piano songs that were distinctive enough to earn her concert support slots and a recorded duet with The Strokes. Two decades on, her eighth album features significantly more in the way of instrumentation. Spacetime Fairytale in particular is nearly nine minutes long, a baroque suite featuring a sumptuous orchestra, multiple gear changes and a tap dancer.

Despite the heavily populated credits list, she recorded alone in a converted church in upstate New York with only producer John Congleton and engineer Ariel Shafir for company, so Covid-cautious that she wouldn’t be in the same room as them. The orchestra was recording in Macedonia. Some of the most powerful moments come from the contrast between her small, sad voice and the grander gestures of the backdrop. Becoming All Alone builds to a gigantic, rich sound halfway through before everything drops away except Spektor and the piano. The ballad Raindrops sounds the most like her older material, touching in its comparative simplicity, and no wonder: it’s the first recording of a song she’s had in her back pocket since her early days.

Loveology, another oldie given belated space on an album, has many of the qualities that drew fans to her in the first place: it’s heart-swellingly romantic, structured with multiple unexpected left turns, and features lyrics that might sound wonderful or terribly twee depending on your personal kookiness levels. A list of subjects to study begins with “Porcupine-ology, antler-ology” and gets to “I’m sorry-ology, forgive me-ology.”

Spektor performed a five night residency on Broadway in 2019 and there is something of the stage musical in her shifting style. She plays the role of a sad guy desperate to find a girlfriend on One Man’s Prayer. Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda called her a genius on his Desert Island Discs. Here she has a theatrical sound to suit the biggest spaces. The drums and strings arriving in the chorus of Coins sound immense.

The most divisive song is likely to be Up the Mountain, with its repeated lines, queasy strings and dark urgency. It’s a strange one, but we can be grateful that even as her budget has increased, her imagination hasn’t been diluted for the mainstream at all.

(Warner)

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