By Sarah Desroche
Regina Spektor is a Regenius.
I have been a fan of Regina’s music for as many, many years, starting with the heartfelt ballad “Eet.” I must have been in early middle school the first time I heard it, and perhaps too young to understand the emotional context. Still, the elegant chattering of Regina’s voice and poetic verses inspired me to dig even deeper. With every song she records, and ever lyric she pens, a deep and intimate story is being released to her viewers. Do the stories come from a mystical place inside her head, or is she drawing out her storytelling from past experiences? I can’t say for sure.
Eventually, I do plan on reviewing every album Regina Spektor has released to date. She is a hidden treasure in the chest of folky-punk-pop, if we’re counting that as a complete genre. Many people will say they’ve heard one or two of their songs, but haven’t listened much beyond “Fidelity” or “Us.” For anyone who loves to feel their heart shattered and then sewn back together again through the beauty of music, I highly recommend giving a few more of Regina’s incredible songs a listen. Let’s start with Far, released in 2009 by Sire Records.
(I’d also like to add that Regina is known for not revealing the meanings of her lyrics, so every idea I express below is simply my interpretation and not officially “true”.)
- The Calculation: A bright and catchy opener to the album, “The Calculation” is an thoughtful interpretation of a souring love story. Though the lyrics to these songs themselves may come across as vague, each line is dotted with metaphors and profound truths. The relationship between these two lovers has become blueprinted and formulated- a calculation stripped of feeling and intimacy. The example in verse two of a “macaroni computer” doing all their “thinking” is an analogy for technology desensitizing our emotions and genuine human connection. Regina also alludes to this thoughtless love by describing the removal of her own heart, a “little stone,” and placing it on the granite countertop. To me, this is an example of defeat; a concrete physicality of feeling heartless and loveless. While “The Calculation” wasn’t my absolute favorite song on the album, a five to ten listens allowed me to better understand the perspective and the deeper meaning.
- Eet: “Eet” is perhaps one of Regina’s better-known works, and it’s the first song I heard from her back in 2012. The desolate, sweet, and almost desperate nature of the song drew me in and begged me to tear it apart. By definition, eet is an old fashioned word for the backspace key on a typewriter. Throughout the song, Regina describes the remorse of forgetting the words to her favorite song, perhaps alluding to the fact that she desires to “backspace” on her own life. As humans, we tend to lose sight of the richer elements of life and focus solely on the things that seldom matter in the long run. Perhaps Regina has spent so much time fretting about the “adult” aspects of her life, she has lost sight of the things that make her the happiest. The song truly holds a nostalgic place in my heart, and I find myself going back to it when I’m facing an abrupt identity crisis.
- Blue Lips: This song is almost certainly some sort of religious statement, even more so than “Laughing With.” While Regina is not necessarily outspoken in her religious views, she has expressed interest with a variety of religious themes. Sometimes cynical and even deliciously sarcastic in her lyrics, “Blue Lips” opens with the following verse:
He stumbled into fate and thought,
“God, this is all there is?”
Though simple in language, the verse sets the mood for the entire song and highlights a potential loss in faith. Through her references to the destruction of the “knowledge tree” and the growth of a heartless world, I am given the sense that Regina fears for the destruction of our planet. We may act holy and righteous, but how can we give ourselves that title if we are promoting the annihilation of what the higher power has given us? A beautiful, blue planet.
4. Folding Chair: With loss for a better word, “Folding Chair” is what I consider to be the comic relief of Far. From my interpretation, “Folding Chair” is a relatively simple song with lyrics that are meant to be interpreted literally. Hooked with a poppy, vintage tune, “Folding Chair” describes a woman at ease by the beach of life, burying her feet in the sand and reclining in her folding chair. She has strong desires to settle down someday and start a family, but the mere thought of commitment scares her off; “Every time the tide come in to take me home, I get scared, and now I’m sitting here alone…” Also, how could anybody resist smiling at Regina’s amazing dolphin sounds towards the end of the song?
5. Machine: As seen in many contemporary indie works, robotics and machinery are often have a dystopian association. Both the lyrics and the music itself have a mechanical and almost creepy ambience. Perhaps one of the most meaningful recurring themes in the song is humanity’s obliviation to the destruction of society as we know it. We are upgraded daily with explosions of information and fake news, eventually leading to the apocalyptic collapse of our fragile, beautiful world. The song closes with this haunting verse, fading out into a lonely prediction:
Part of worldly taking
Apart from worldly troubles
Living in your prewar apartment
Soon to be your postwar apartment
And you lived in the future
And the future
6. Laughing With: This has always been one of my absolute favorite songs from the album. Though the song constantly references people laughing at God and making jokes of his presumed power, I have never considered it to be a song pertaining strictly to religion. The song, rather, is about taking our mortality for granted. We scoff in the face in a higher power until we ourselves experience grief and loss. We laugh at the idea of divinity until our we’re poor, or starving, or receiving a call from our doctor after that routine medical test. After tasting the bitterness of death, we pray for forgiveness and mercy. To me, the song relates to how people only recognize what they truly have when they are about to lose it. We treat the idea of a higher power like a genie- something that grants us wishes and creates the illusion of magic, until we lose what we have always wanted.
7. Human of the Year: Yet another sacred and hauntingly beautiful song, the disconnection of emotion in Regina’s voice combined with the complex piano pattern creates a beautiful atmosphere. This song is also incredible just as an instrumental- the rise and fall of the piano, the angelic chorus of voices that fluctuates towards the climax of the song. The song describes an average, unassuming man- Karl Projektorinski- and his newfound honorable title of Human of the Year. We, the listeners, do not know what Karl Projektorinski has done to earn himself such a prestigious title; we only know that he is responding with fear and utter surprise. The delicacy of Karl’s humbleness and struggle to feel pride offers some valuable social commentary: nobody can be perfect, so why should Karl be rewarded for just being human?
8. Two Birds: The beat and melody of “Two Birds” reminds me quite a bit of the energy Regina brings in “Folding Chair” and “The Calculation.” To me, the song is about relationships. Not necessarily romantic ones, though it proves to be heavily applicable to the song. The birds are analogies for two very different people: one is controlling, and one is struggling for independence. He is trying to keep her grounded and attached to the wire, saying again and again that someday he will fly away. Such a phrase seems to commonly come from the mouth of abusive partners: the idea that someday, everything will be okay. The independent heroine of this story knows better than to believe the words of someone so small-minded and controlling.
9. Dance Anthem of the 80s: Upon first listen, I believed “Dance Anthem of the 80s” to be one of the most charming Regina songs I had ever listened to. To this day, “Dance Anthem of the 80s” and “Genius Next Door” are the two songs that strike the biggest cord in me. However, the lyrics to this song represent the loss of innocence in the 80s- a that you wouldn’t automatically associate with such a charming beat. I find it quite brilliant how Regina chose to represent love and sex, and the emphasis of physical attraction in this decade.
There’s a meat market down the street
The boys and girls watch each other eat
The boys and the girls watch each other eat
When they really just want to watch each other sleep
A “meat market,” as you may or may not know, is slang for a place where hookups or romantic encounters take place. Watching someone sleep, however, is a complete contrast of interest: watching somebody in an extremely vulnerable and intimate state. These two attitudes could be social commentary on the cold war: hostility and a loss of innocence in the country was pushing young people to find fast pleasure. However, what everybody really wanted was simply to feel validated and cared for.
10. Genius Next Door: The first time I ever listened to this song, I’m pretty sure it made me cry harder than any other song I’ve ever listened to (I may or may not have cried to it again since.) Perhaps it’s the dismal piano accompaniment, or the poetic storytelling, but there’s something about this song that hits me in my feels every time. The nature of the song’s true meaning has been disputed for almost a decade, but there appears to be some key points everyone can agree on: a terrible tragedy occured in a local lake, something that the townspeople avoid speaking about. The lake is as “thick as butter,” and happened phenomenally overnight. The kids of the town, however, disregard the tragedy and continue to swim and drink at the lake. The story takes another terrible twist when the “genius next door,” a character frequently described throughout the story, wades into the lake and dies himself, his brain releasing a massive, orgasmic amount of chemicals as he fades into death.
11. Wallet: A combination rich descriptions and elegant storytelling makes for a nice contrast from “Genius Next Door,” but nonetheless, they are both impactful in their own ways. The song, with its charming and simple lyrics, plainly tells the story of finding a wallet and returning it to the rightful owner. In several points throughout the song, the narrator implies that she herself is strapped for funds: her cards are held together with a blue rubber band, and she perhaps works long and tiring days. Despite the temptation some may feel to take the contents of the wallet, the narrator finds the goodness in her heart to return it. And how does she do this? By bringing it to the local Blockbuster, of course.
12. One More Time with Feeling: Because of the complex nature of this song’s themes, the actual meaning could translate to a variety of different topics. From the first line of the song, we can hypothesize that the subject is struggling to overcome some degree of trauma. This could be hospitalization, depression, or a breakup, but the exact trauma is never clarified. The subject is staring at a balloon- perhaps a “get well soon” balloon in their hospital room?
Your stitches are all out
But your scars are healing wrong
And the helium balloon inside your room has come undone…
I have always interpreted this song as an anthem of encouragement. Regina tells the subject again and again to breathe, try again, and find the strength to keep on living. As someone myself who has also struggled with trauma in the past, this song helpful for the days when I can hardly get out of bed. Paired with an upbeat rhythm, this is one of the more comforting pieces of the album.
13. Man of a Thousand Faces: Let’s get back on the Train of Dark Depressions, shall we?
His words are quiet like stains are
On a tablecloth washed in a river
Stains that are trying to cover for eachother
Or at least blend in with the pattern
Alright. This song is almost definitely about a murder, and the psychological impact this crime is having on the subject. He’s clearly lost in his own world- perhaps on drugs, perhaps suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness. The song is coupled with a gentle piano accompaniment, which somehow makes the nature of the song even more haunting.
Thank you, Regina Spektor, for blessing your listeners with this work of melodic art. Thank you for giving a voice to storytellers, to those who suffer, and those who have been forgotten. Most importantly, thank you for being my nightly bedtime story, wrapped up in one introspective album. I’ve exhausted myself writing this extensive review, but hopefully, my point has been made.
Regina Spektor Website: http://www.reginaspektor.com/
Works Consulted: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Far_(album)
Picture source: https://www.amazon.com/Far-Vinyl-Regina-Spektor/dp/B0027HBAB2