I'm the last person you want to ask about pop music because the last time I was particularly in the know involved crouching by the stereo speaker with a cassette recorder, hoping to record a scritchy, unlistenable replica of "Don't You Want Me" by the Human League without accidentally picking up any of Kasey Kasem's patter. I was like a little gay suburban Bela Bartok. Soon after that I discovered classical music, and my inner life took flight just as my social life plummeted to the earth with a crashing thud.
Ever the euphemist, I like to think of my tastes in popular music not so much as "woefully underinformed" as "selective." I like what I like, yessirree, and that's about one thing a year. I can't name an American Idol winner for you, I'm still not 100% sure what is and is not hip hop, and even in the realm of indie pop (back in my day, young feller, we called it "alternative music") I just basically don't know shit from shinola.
However. Occasionally I toss off my Havisham frock and peer into the youthful world, and once in a while there's something good, and once in a longer while, something fantastic. Regina Spektor is at this point years off the cutting edge but in case you don't know her, I would like to be a big bore about her, complete with Youtube clips (the hipster Power Point!) Here's exhibit A. The song is Fidelity. Note the aspirated coloratura. I mean who the fuck does that?
What's so grand about this is, um, a bunch of stuff. Actually one thing that isn't clear here so much is her technical prowess, because though her album is (to my ear) a wonder of production that has a POV but doesn't get you all wet with it, it downplays Spektor the pianist at times. But she's kind of the anti-Madonna, the rare combination of a good voice, artfully deployed, with excellent instrumental chops. Let's watch the same song live, shall we? Oh hm, no. I have a better idea. Here's "Us" from an earlier album, live, because it shows more of what I'm on about.
There's something really bodily connected about her singing and playing, and beyond that, the love fest with her audience (see around 2:55 and at the end) is just enchanting.
Meanwhile, her songs go a lot of places...the tender revision of an not entirely loveable myth in "Sampson", the catalogs of doubts about love dressed up as love songs like "Better", even the sloppily lyric'ed "On the Radio" is a triumph of delivery, here and there the bluesy crag in the voice saving a too coy reference. Dramatis personae tend to be the standard "you" and "I" (my fave pop song used to be "The Boy with the Arab Strap" specifically because it has so many characters) and the verb tends to be love, but with interesting detours.
The songs are urban, multi-lingual, lightly polyphonic in the Bakhtinian sense unlses at this point I'm just bullshitting. And then, if you're still clicking around over there on youtube, songs like "Apres Moi" highlight something you hear a lot more of in the live clips, her playful sense of when to throw in an unsingerly sound.
Oh here's another, as long as I'm being insufferable. Here she's singing "That Time", and I'm including it because of the last riff in the song, a vocal ornament as delicately turned as Callas' ascending thirds near the beginning of "Al dolce guidami." No, I'm serious! Ok, yeah, now I'm totally exaggerating. But here it is anyway:
Regina Spektor is playing somewhere in Williamsburg next week but my skinny jeans are at the welder's having the rivets redone, so I'll probably skip it. We apologize for this detour into things I know absolutely nothing about. Regularly scheduled opera programming ought to begin in a month and a half.