She doesn’t have the cult following of Tori Amos or the eccentric reputation of Fiona Apple, but Regina Spektor is every bit the accomplished songwriter, musician and entertainer.
Moscow-born and classically trained, she has, over the pans of about 10 years, become well-known for combining her world-class musicianship, keen songwriting skills and hyper-dexterous voice with a smart, quirky personality that may attract fans of Amos and Apple, but is unlike any others’.
On Tuesday, she released “What We Saw From The Cheap Seats,” her sixth studio album and first since “Far” in 2009. Like its predecessors, it covers a lot of ranges and styles: the playful, girly French pop of “Don’t Leave Me (Non Me Quitte Pas),” which melodically resembles Jimmy Buffett’s “Volcano” in the chorus; “Oh Marcello,” an oddball ditty that reprises the lyrics to the chorus of the Animals’ “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”; the operatic piano ballad “Patron Saint”; the stormy and orchestral “All the Rowboats,” leavened with Spektor’s lilting voice and piano runs; and the opener, “Small Town Moon,” which starts off as a warm piano hymn but erupts into a brash gust of handclaps, drums and strings, as Spektor reminds the listener, “Today we’re as young as we’re ever going to be.”
As flamboyant and idiosyncratic as her music can get, it sometimes overshadows her lyrics, which are often poetic, profound and insightful. In “Firewood,” over nothing but a lovely melody rendered starkly on piano and a soft bass line, Spektor sings about life, love -- “love what you have and you’ll have more love” -- hindsight and the sting of regret:
The piano is not firewood yet
But a heart can’t be helped
And it gathers regret
Someday you’ll wake up and feel a great pain
And you’ll miss every toy you ever owned
You’ll want to go back
You’ll wish you were small
Nothing can slow the crying
You’ll take the clock off of your wall
And you’ll wish it was lying
It is one of the more straight-forward songs on “Cheap Seats,” an album filled with a voice worth listening to, both musically and lyrically.