From Russia With Love

Regina Spektor's kaleidoscopic confessionals

In 2001 Regina Spektor was one of the stars of New York City's anti-folk movement, which comprised a bunch of acoustic singer/songwriters who took inspiration from punk, rock, and pop over your typical coffeehouse fare. A classically trained pianist who was born in Russia and raised in the Bronx, Spektor's songwriting is all over the map, but in a good way. Punk, German cabaret, Eastern European folk music, and her considerable keyboard chops give her the ability to create songs full of unexpected twists and turns. Her second self-released CD, Soviet Kitsch, featured arrangements that bounced from noisy full-bore punk to the gentle "Chemo Limo," a slow, simmering tune about a woman living with cancer. With Spektor's constant gigging the only promo for the album, it did well enough on that Sire offered her a major-label deal and gave the set a national release.

The recent Begin to Hope CD is smoother than Soviet Kitsch, but the studio polish only adds to the appreciation of Spektor's considerable songwriting skill and quirky, wise-ass singing. "That Time" is an energetic, minimal rocker. Spektor yips and yelps about going insane against an angular guitar track with edgy energy. "Hotel Song" brings to mind a mid-'60s girl group R&B hit, but those vintage tracks never candidly offered potential beaus "little bags of cocaine" and sexual satisfaction. On the free-form "Après Moi," Spektor shows off her considerable keyboard skills while inventively cursing an ex-lover with the words of Madame de Pompadour, lover of Louis XV, who allegedly said, "Après moi, le deluge" ("After me, the flood"), predicting the French Revolution that would bring down the monarchy. Pretty highfalutin for a pop singer, but Spektor isn't afraid to let her education show. She's not your typical confessional songwriter; her lyrics are crammed with shifting kaleidoscopic images, while her unpredictable vocals, full of odd stops and starts, add another rhythmic element to her quirky and highly original vignettes.

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