Avoiding the Q-Word


I have a confession to make: I watched the first couple seasons of Grey’s Anatomy. It started out kinda interesting, kinda funny, kinda offbeat. I thought it was gonna fall between Ally McBeal and Boston Legal before numerous shark-jumps propelled the series really far up its own ass and into a morass of melodrama. Also, Grey’s has perpetrated the worst inaccuracy in the history of televsion. I know, plenty of medical shows are inaccurate (House would never be able to keep a job in a real hospital, but who cares? That show is fucking awesome) but none besides Grey’s Anatomy has committed the crime of having one of its whiniest, pussiest characters say that The Clash is his favorite band. Unlikely, Patrick Dempsey. No one who loves The Clash could be such a snivelling weiner.

I bring up your girlfriend’s favorite TV show because one of the things that began to piss me off as the show got worse was that they still would feature really good music. I’ve heard TV on the Radio, Band of Horses, and Regina Spektor (a couple of times) on that show, in episodes that were subpar to say the least. I’m not sure how much having a lot of Begin to Hope featured on ABC’s biggest show (is it still their biggest? I don’t care; they cancelled Pushing Daisies so they can go fuck themselves) pushed Regina Spektor into the national spotlight, but I also don’t care. Regina Spektor deserves to be successful and if having her music featured on the shlockiest show ever helps, that’s  all right with me.

She’s successful enough now that the Pitchfork people have decided to stop liking her, though they used to find her… (I’m not going to use the q-word, because everyone does to describe Spektor’s music and it’s just lazy at this point) eccentric, Pitchfork has decided to find her new album, Far, annoying. Incidentally, if you’re ever arguing with a Pitchfork staffer, I think a good thing to say when they turn their nose up at something you like (and they will) is, “You like Wavves.” That should pretty much invalidate whatever they’re about to say. (Am I saying Wavves is objectively terrible? I guess so. And also, I’m glad that dumb fucking kid had a massive meltdown at that festival. Maybe now that “band” can go the fuck away.)

Their loss. Spektor’s lyrics are whimsical as ever, her particular gift being the ability to go from childlike innocence to a world-weary absence of innocence in the same song (kinda how life goes, yeah?). Far really isn’t much of a departure from Begin to Hope, which might turn off some people, but I find that it’s just a really catchy, well-crafted pop album. Spektor isn’t afraid to sound a little silly, and she has a penchant for taking syllables of lyrics and turning them into tiny refrains (“Eet” is a good example of this) which are infectious and goofy. God forbid the woman have fun while she’s performing.

The strength in any Regina Spektor song is her voice, an instrument that goes from low dolphin impersonations (on “Folding Chair,” she impersonates a dolphin. It’s just barely not-annoying) to lilting high notes (like on the album opener “The Calculation,” where, for some reason, she kinda reminds me of a young David Bowie) on a whim. It’s not enough to call Spektor “quirky,” (that’s the only time I’m using the q-word), especially because the people who do it seem to be doing it in place of calling her “good.” As if they want to look at Spektor and say, “Aw, isn’t the little girl with the piano cute?” It strikes me as an almost dismissive term. Yes, Regina Spektor plays with syntax and plays with her voice to a degree that many singers do not (by the way, Pitchfork loved Fever Ray’s album, and that chick manipulates the fuck out of her voice. How come that‘s not q-riffic?) and she chews up syllables and laughs and sputters her way through songs, but rather than focusing on the unusualness of all of that, why not talk about the musicality? Like all good singers, Spektor uses her voice as an instrument and any instrument used well is going to have a wide range of sounds.

There are several really choice cuts on Far, perhaps the best of which is “Dance Anthem of the 80s,” which features all the things that Pitchfork hates about Regina Spektor. It’s a little repetitive, but it’s fun and I like any song that talks about boys and girls at “a meat market down the street.” “Dance Anthem” indulges all of Spektor’s musical weirdness, with stops and starts and those syllable-refrains, and it all manages to work because Spektor’s voice is so compelling, singing in the middle of the tune, “I am one of your people,” and showcasing one Spektor’s other talents: finding the beautiful in the middle of the silly, the sad underneath the happy, the… oh fuck, I’m running out of comparisons. Point is, Spektor’s songs are all wonderfully human, often encompassing everything that can mean in one song. The q-word just doesn’t do for stuff like that. (By the way, earlier Spektor tunes that are examples of what I’m talking about: “Us” and “Poor Little Rich Boy” from Soviet Kitsch and “Samson” from Begin to Hope.)

The first single from Far, “Laughing With,” is probably my least favorite song on the album. It’s not a bad song, but it strikes me as a little too easy. Spektor says, “No one’s laughing at God in a hospital” and I get what she’s going for, but I should like to point out that some of us aren’t thinking about God at all in a hospital. The last time I was in a hospital, God was the furthest thing from my mind (in fact, God is usually the furthest thing from my mind, despite which fact, I’m a very happy person whose life is quite meaningful, okay-thanks-g’bye). A lot of people will dig the sentiment of the song (it ends on the line, “We’re all laughing with God”) and I bet you it makes it onto an episode of Grey’s Anatomy this season, but it’s far less fascinating to me than album closer “Man of a Thousand Faces” which shares its title with a biopic about Lon Chaney Sr. but – because I didn’t Google the title until this morning and an not familiar with Oscar-nominated pictures from 1957- the subject matter of the song reminds me of Joseph Campbell (author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, one of the best books ever written – I literally read it once a year) because it talks about a guy going to a place, “that no religion/ has a found a path to or a likeness” and looking at the moon “like he knows her.” Even if the song is not about Joe Campbell (I don’t think it is, but it’s not impossible), it always makes me smile when one awesome thing reminds me of another awesome thing – in this case, I can listen to Regina Spektor and read Joseph Campbell and not have to bottle either of them up into boxes labeled with single words that don’t really do justice to their respective talents.

In summary, some instructions for good living: read Joseph Campbell. Listen to Regina Spektor. Don’t watch Grey’s Anatomy. Do listen to The Clash. That should just about do it.

Oh, and, whatever you do, don’t listen to Wavves.


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