Regina Spektor | Begin To Hope (Sire)

Begin to Hope is truth in advertising: One hopes that Spektor’s profile will be dramatically raised with this latest release, and those once burned will be rewarded with one of the year’s most compelling records.

 


Regina Spektor’s debut, Soviet Kitsch, was an odd, exciting bird. Aggressively quirky and unwilling to wrap even the most pop of compositions in comforting familiarity, it heralded the arrival of a new-school songstress capable of competing with beautiful weirdoes such as Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, and Kate Bush. So bracing was the avant-garde angularity of Soviet Kitsch that to hear “Fidelity,” the opening track of Spektor’s bracing sophomore effort Begin to Hope, approach normalcy is so startling that you wonder if her debut wasn’t just to shake loose the fad-hungry.

Those put off by discovering that the propulsive single “Us” was an anomaly within the context of Soviet Kitsch should dive headfirst into the surprisingly accessible Begin to Hope. Spektor, for the most part, sheds her arty exterior, revealing an achingly raw singer/songwriter who (gasp!) is more old-fashioned than she’d have you believe.

“Fidelity” gives way to “Better,” which could easily be a forgotten radio hit from the mid-’90s, a straightforward declaration of love that shows Spektor able to dial down the vocal affectations and deliver a sweetly hard-edged performance that will have you reaching for the repeat button. The soaring “Samson” is breathtaking in its unadorned beauty, laying bare Spektor’s range and heretofore partly obscured talent at wringing pathos out of stark, evocative verses. I could go on and on about the delights of every track, so rich and rewarding are the songs included here: “On the Radio” is a poperatic piece of work, while “Field Below” is a bluesy left turn that serves as the gateway to the album’s more experimental second half.

Produced by the unlikely choice of David Kahne (I can’t say as I would’ve thought to put the knob-twiddler for Sugar Ray in the same studio as Spektor), Begin to Hope has the faint gloss of Top 40, but not so much that it distracts from the occasionally brutal beauty of Spektor’s singular vision.

Begin to Hope is truth in advertising: One hopes that Spektor’s profile will be dramatically raised with this latest release, and those once burned will be rewarded with one of the year’s most compelling records.

 


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