regina spektor album home, before and after
Image via Instagram/@reginaspektor

Regina Spektor’s ‘Home, Before and After’ Is a Semi-Letdown

In spite of a few standout tracks, the album tries its hand at experimentation and ends up feeling incomplete.

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regina spektor album home, before and after
Image via Instagram/@reginaspektor

In spite of a few standout tracks, the album tries its hand at experimentation and ends up feeling incomplete.

After going six years without a new full-length album, fans of Regina Spektor might have been hoping that “Home, before and after” would be a sort of rebirth for the Russian American singer. Unfortunately, her return to the scene is underwhelming, a sort of mismatched experimental album that fails to hit the mark.

The problems with the album begin with the lyrics themselves. Though some of the songs manage to string together pretty and profound verses, several others come across as the sort of stream-of-consciousness phrasing that feels reminiscent of a very rough first draft, or a journal full of a songwriter’s loose, half-formed ideas. One of the album’s singles, “Loveology,” falls into this trap; although the first half of the song is full of floaty piano and simple, pretty lyrics, the back half devolves into a string of nonsensical words — all of which end in “ology.”

This pattern continues across “Home, before and after,” with songs starting off promising and then transitioning into something that can only be described as “experimental.” Even the worst songs on the album have potential, but it feels like Spektor is almost trying so hard to be profound and unique that she forgets she needs to make good music as well.

Perhaps one of the best examples of this phenomenon is another one of the album’s singles. “Up The Mountain,” the second track on the album, feels more like spoken word poetry set to jarring, ominous music. The lyrics are repetitive, and the phrasing is altered only slightly from verse to verse, making the entire song sound a bit like a CD skip. Quite frankly, it is not a song that needs to be listened to more than once.

There are, however, a couple of bright spots in “Up The Mountain,” and they stand out enough that they deserve mention and praise. Toward the end of the song, Spektor sings a segment composed entirely of the line “Like it or not, I’m coming up the mountain.” Though this part of the track does feature the same excessive repetition as the rest of the song, the sound of her voice and the backing music becomes much more palatable. She becomes louder and more assertive, as do the instruments behind her. This shift, however drastic, fits the words she is singing much better than the scraping whisper she employs for much of the rest of the song, creating a nice contrast.

There are also hints of other indie-alt records in some of the backing tracks. Most notably, some sections of the song feel akin to My Brightest Diamond’s “Be Brave,” another song that feels experimental and a little off-putting. However, these moments are few and far between, and they are not enough to save this song.

“Up The Mountain” and “Loveology” are two of the three singles that Spektor released before dropping the complete album, despite the fact that they are two of the weakest songs on the entire record. There are several other songs (songs that are arguably better and more enjoyable than the two aforementioned pieces) that feel like they would have been better choices for singles. One of those songs, “Raindrops,” is located at the front half of the album. It is a song about searching for something, but also one of finding and belonging. Spektor does a really nice job juxtaposing the big, lofty questions and philosophies of life — such as “where it goes when it goes” — with simple lines about people being people, and falling in love. It is a song that feels a little lonely and a little sad, but also hopeful too. Overall, although it is simple and quite similar to several of the other songs on “Home, before and after,” “Raindrops” is a single-worthy standout.

“Coin,” the eighth song on the album, gets the same nod. It also features the soft piano and light, ethereal vocals of “Raindrops,” but it does so in a manner that makes the undertone of the song slightly darker and moodier. It features a really nice change of pace, one that manages to strike the balance between being surprising but not jarring or abrupt. The lyrics also feel more natural in “Coin” than they do in many of the other songs on the record. It feels like the sort of song that belongs on a movie soundtrack, and it is a much stronger work than “Up The Mountain” and “Loveology.”

The real shining star of the album, though, is neither “Coin” nor “Raindrops.” Instead, it is “Becoming All Alone.” This song is the first track of the album, as well as the third of the three singles released by Spektor and her label before “Home, before and after” dropped in its entirety. Even before listening to the rest of the album, it is easy to see why “Becoming All Along” was chosen — it is nothing short of magnificent.

The opening is soft, but abrupt, featuring a simple piano accompaniment but no real lead-in. This is a stylistic choice that makes an appearance across the album, but it works best here. The lyrics tell a clear and moving story, one in which the speaker is approached by God, who asks if she would be willing to have a drink with him. During their conversation, she asks tough questions of God, the ones that humans ask during faithless times but never receive a true answer to: “Why doesn’t it get better with time … You have a heart, why don’t you use it?”

There is no desperation in her voice, nor pleading; instead, there is merely a sense of acceptance. Just like the rest of humanity, these questions are not answered by God, at least not within the confines of the song. The answers are not really the point. Instead, Spektor is going straight for the listener’s jugular, inviting them to join her as she feels hope and hopelessness all at once. On “Home, before and after,” this is the one to listen to above all others. The only flaw is that it opens up the album, setting the bar so high that everything after it can’t help but feel like a letdown.

Writer Profile

Jo Stephens

Georgetown University
History major, Journalism minor

Jo Stephens is originally from Columbia, South Carolina, but is now a student at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. She's studying history and journalism and hopes to one day become a sports journalist.

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