Regina Spektor: At Home, Before and After Album Review

A great song by Regina Spektor unfolds like a short story with the boring parts left out. Like “Chemo Limo”, “Samson” and other iPod-era bangers, “Becoming All Alone” fits the bill. It’s a wry ballad imagining what it might be like to grab a beer with God, and the lonely chorus has that Spektorian quality to make sincerity seem like a superpower. When I saw Spektor debut the song, alone at the piano, at a benefit concert in 2014, I remember feeling like I was being told a secret. Someone uploaded an amateur recording to YouTube and fans were giving it around like a treasure, wondering when she would record the song.

Now, almost eight years later, that wish has come true. “Becoming All Alone” is the opening track of Spektor’s eighth album, At home, before and after† But the silent fragility of the track has been lost. The studio version is adorned with huge technicolor strings and a meaty, “Torn” adjacent drum loop that does the odd job of imposing a funky backbeat on a track that isn’t particularly funky at all. There is a great song hidden in it, but the arrangement is so slick that ‘Fidelity’ sounds like a demo.

I know, I know: don’t get too attached to the early live version. It’s an unspoken rule of pop fandom. Still, the song’s evolution reflects the leading impetus on Spektor’s first album since 2016. Spektor worked remotely for the first time, recording her parts in a converted church in upstate New York, while John Congleton produced the record from California. The songs are among her most memorable since the start to hopeFar era, yet there is an occasional mismatch between the songwriting and the arrangements, which focus on bombastic, widescreen gestures.

Take “What Might Have Been,” which starts out as a whimsical tale of contrast (“Sickness and flowers go together/Bombings and shelters go together”) before evolving into a windy chorus caked with Broadway glitter. It sounds majestic and certainly expensive, but the production flattens out the songwriter’s nervous eccentricities.

Spektor’s childish quirkiness is still intact – ‘Loveology’ culminates in her taking the guise of a schoolteacher and listing invented words ending in ‘-ology’ – but it is set against a certain solemnity, a heaviness. The record is full of cosmic musings; almost every tune builds up to a grand italic proclamation about love or loss or disruption: “Love is enough a reason to stay” (“Coin”), “Home is where the lights On!” (“Through a door”), and so on. Heaviest of all is “Spacetime Fairytale,” a nine-minute epic that flutters between earnest orchestral brooding and playful piano interludes. The ambition is dizzying and the subject matter, the immensity of the times, compelling, but undermined by a ‘collect-round-m’child tone’, full of hokey rhymes like ‘The story must go on/So keep listening, my son.’

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