For dramatic reach — everything from whimsy to pathos — Regina Spektor’s 2006 album “Begin to Hope” was a real stunner, a wonderfully paced outpouring of emotion that pushed at contemporary pop’s seams and never lacked for surprises. Although not as sweeping in scope and, alas, bereft of her heart-stopping glottal stops, the Russian-American pianist’s new “What We Saw From the Cheap Seats” is nevertheless a signal achievement, a set of beguiling originals abounding with hooks, humanity and endearing quirks.
Foremost in the quirky department, “Oh Marcello” interpolates the tagline from the Animals’ “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” into a campy, mock-classical romp. Restlessly inventive, the track essays almost too many terrific ideas to be contained in three minutes, recalling a less over-the-top Queen or a more freewheeling Paul McCartney. The ping-ponging peaks and valleys of “Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)” are as loopy as they are enchanting, especially when, sounding a McGarrigles-inspired note, Spektor tenderly replaces the image of an aging woman’s varicose-veined legs with one of their young and shapely predecessors.
Spektor’s fetching eccentricities aside, there’s at least a handful of radio-ready singles here, thanks in part to the direction of Dr. Dre protege and Eminem producer Mike Elizondo. “The Party” is just what it says, and then some. “May I propose a little toast for all of the ones who hurt the most / For all the friends that we have lost,” Spektor urges over a stately brass arrangement. Rich in empathy, her sentiment is anything but cheap, despite the vantage point invoked in her album’s title.
“The Party,” “Oh Marcello,”
“Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)”