By Stephen Thompson, NPR Music
A genuine oddball with a salty side, Regina Spektor possesses a vocal style rangy enough to encompass sweet nothings, animal noises, drum sounds and funny accents. But for all her occasional flights of fancy — or perhaps because her unpredictability makes her sincerity more disarming — Spektor is a skilled sentimentalist whose words summon universal feelings of love, hope, disappointment and desire.
Spektor's first new studio album in three years, What We Saw From the Cheap Seats (out May 29) finds her scattering in several directions without losing sight of the sweet melodies that make her so accessible. "Don't Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)" bounces and lilts through an almost comically jaunty arrangement — it's 3 minutes and 40 seconds of pure, sprightly ingratiation — before giving way to the sparklingly gorgeous ballad "Firewood," whose minor-key piano and hopeful realism make it one of her finest songs. Spektor may get silly in "Oh Marcello," or imitate drum blasts in "All the Rowboats," but she's forever on the verge of a devastating insight or a gasp-inducing succession of notes.
For a classically trained performer with an unusual history — she moved from Moscow to the Bronx when she was 9, then later trained at a music conservatory — Spektor has a remarkable gift for gut-level connection, and for drawing a straight line from her idea-packed head to thousands of bleeding hearts. On What We Saw From the Cheap Seats, as on its predecessors, even the weirdest moment comes in service of warmth that's as kind and necessary as an old friend.
What We Saw From the Cheap Seats will be available to stream on demand from May 21 through May 29, 2012.