What We Saw from the Cheap Seats will further divide Spektor’s fan-base, as it continues her emphasis on sleeker production, that whilst elevated Begin to Hope (2006), tired to some degree on 2009’s directionless Far.
‘Cheap Seats, however, has more in common with the earlier; solid opener “Small Town Moon” sounds as if it were written for Begin to Hope, with its familiar and seductive union of ballad and dance beat. “Oh Marcello” (interpolation of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”) builds more muscle, highlighting Spektor’s marriage of the catchy and quirky. Ironically, it is her most original offering of the eleven songs; she does do some heavy breathing on snowy Russian number “Open”, but comparisons to Kate Bush’s magnum opus The Dreaming (1982) are inevitable.
“Firewood” and “The Party”(especially) aren’t without charm, but her self-cover of “Don’t Leave Me (Ne me quitte pas)” is needless and feels like a commercial step too far, as does “How”, strangely resonating a Dion/ Carey vocal plainness. Still, more songs are good than not and “All the Rowboats” is particularly striking lyrically (“But the most special are the most lonely / God, I pity the violins / In glass coffins they keep coughing / They’ve forgotten, forgotten how to sing”), even if it does have the ring of a preconceived single. “Ballad of a Politician” is clunky and hard to forgive.
Nothing chaotic and off-the-cuff as say “Chemo Limo” (Soviet Kitsch, 2004) emerges, instead sleepy closer “Jessica”, which replaces piano with immaculately strummed acoustic guitar heralds a more straightforward direction. Spektor has been getting tidier with each album, and she’s really cleaned house with this one; it will dismay a few to know there are no ragged edges or pieces of fallen popcorn on these cheap seats.