Regina Spektor
Begin to Hope
2006
B



kitsch is a tough one, innit? Author Modris Eksteins points out that it “replaces ethics with aesthetics.” Next sentence? “Kitsch is the mask of death.” Ouch. ‘Course he was busy describing the Nazis at the time. And kitsch in music is actually usually welcome. If we could get more people replacing ethics with aesthetics, Neil Young would be watching his model train set racing around and around instead of inflicting us with Are You Passionate? and Amy Diamond would rule the airwaves.

Equilibrium is important, though, and Begin to Hope has some incredibly ethical moments at its beginning. Which leads to great songs like the string-backed, hip-hop beat of “Fidelity” and the similarly stringed and soulless drums of lead single “On the Radio.” Spektor gets in a quirk here or there (“fall” gets broken into at least eight syllables on “Fidelity,” spitting “radio” out like it’s being expelled via the Heimlich and then caressing it on the way down), but they’re produced to the hilt—check the almost comically sedate synth bed on “Fidelity.” So, as a result, you also get “Better,” which is built like a fourth single (sturdy, dependable, forgettable), and “Samson,” built like a third (dramatic, dealbreaker/maker, unforgettable (for better or worse)).

This being Spektor’s first material built specifically for Sire, it’s hardly a surprise that she wants to welcome you in and let you take your shoes off. It at least gives her time on “Field Below” to use an opening digitized vocal shiver and run off into a Boys for Pele moment. If you haven’t put your shoes back on and run out the door after the five minutes and change (nobody will blame you after that ominous bass finds its way into the room), you’ll be treated to a whole host of death masks.

“Apres Moi” starts as a simple piano romp offset by Spektor’s vocal starts and stops, but gets ambitious when what sounds like a marimba pops up in the middle by building up into a full-fledged orchestra by song’s end. “That Time” is this album’s “Your Honor,” but with a touch more musical subtlety, while closer “Summer in the City” is a straight bore musically but charms lyrically (“Summer in the City / I’m so lonely, lonely, lonely / So I went to a protest / Just to rub up against strangers.”).

A little bit of kitsch is important—just don’t go overboard like the Nazis (or the Soviets, for that matter). Begin to Hope has enough of it to stand out, and enough ethics to keep the whole thing grounded. What could be better?



Reviewed by: Todd Burns
Reviewed on: 2006-07-21
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