It is well said that one carries their homeland in their heart. And yet, for many of us, a specific place is what we call home—a kind of place where plenty of our memories are made and where our loved ones are waiting at the end of the day. Russian-born, Bronx-raised Regina Spektor wrote Home, Before and After as a soulful homage to the city on the Hudson River and a further testament to her incomparable creative streak. The result is a dichotomy of simplicity and complexity and walks in that fine line between poetry and musicality while also introducing plenty of risky novelty.
An extraordinary storyteller, Spektor always had this characteristic to her songwriting where she crafts bittersweet modern-day romances through piercingly radiant lyrics that poke fun at everyday life’s quirks and eccentricities. And she once again offers these different perspectives to elevate the lyrical depth. Hence even though the majority of the tracks do not necessarily carry a burst of captivating melodies, the record remains vivacious and enthusiastic through her signature conciseness. This is particularly evident on the apologetic “Loveology” where Spektor plays the role of a teacher to list all sorts of “-ologies,” from porcupine-ology and antler-ology to I’m sorry-ology and forgive me-ology. It is a satirical critique of the current era of self-branding, and its self-consciousness and disapproval about singing songs about nothing at all is peak Regina Spektor. In a similar tone, “Becoming All Alone” begins with an absurd conversation with God in a bar. Here, Spektor manifests her desire for change and asks questions we all ask ourselves from time to time: “Why doesn’t it get better with time?” And poignantly straightforward “SugarMan” reflects on what happens when love is replaced with the delusive lust money can bring as she sings “Sometimes you need some sugar to get through the years / Just find a lap to sit on and you’ll get something to eat.”
Released June 2022, ”Loveology” served as the third single off Home, Before and After.
In terms of production, Home, Before and After rests on a more conformist pop frame than the one Regina Spektor has become known for. While there are plenty of experimental offerings scattered amongst the tracklist, the record mostly leans on leans on her bold and progressive folk roots. And this can be underwhelming at times, but what cloaks these moments are some of these fantastic instrumentations that feel cinematic and victorious, creating a very polarising listen. The nine-minute kaleidoscopic musical journey “Spacetime Fairytale” is a particular highlight in this regard—featuring strings, woodwinds, and even tap-dancing. The track spirals in its own ethereal harmonies before plummeting into a more creatively orchestrated piece of grandeur, adding yet another dynamic and viscerally captivating layer to Spektor’s fascinating work. Another stand-out would possibly be “Up the Mountain” where burgeoning musical refrains meet grand scale orchestra with a touch of feel-good kitsch. The track has a more upbeat vibe to it and it also presents an urgency that is often missed in modern pop songs through dramatic tempo changes and horns. The skittish nursey rhyme of “What Might’ve Been” is peculiarly brilliant. The track begins as a whimsical combination of contrasts in a melody that builds in a frantic fashion before ultimately swelling into a majestic and certainly expensive chorus. It is one of those pieces here that are that are keener on her artistic identity and fully embraces her written and vocal technique.
Spektor has always been artist who could comfortably stay in her own lane, but chooses not to. She is a master at granting extraordinary elements to what could otherwise be ordinary, and this trait has shaped possibly one of the most encyclopedic and diverse music catalogues we have ever seen. And throughout this new collection, she proposes some of her most ambitious concepts to date. Yes, there are some shortcomings—since there seem to be more slow songs than one might expect considering her more recent releases. However, each track segues well into the next one and creates an overall sweet and tender listening experience. Just try not to let the simplicity of the arrangement pass you by.
Home, Before and After is out now on all digital platforms.