Something rubs the wrong way, though. There are reasons why I cringe over the monumental task of writing about the Summer. There are obstacles--like my inherent proclivity toward sarcasm, for example. This season is chock full of the kind of earnestness that makes Joanna Newsom sound like a shrew, so it's hardly avoidable.
Writing about Regina Spektor poses a similar dilemma. On the one hand, Begin to Hope is good. It's really, really good.
Almost too good.
For one thing, there's the title--a cringe-worthy ode to the silver lining, at once maudlin and yet earnest. I mean, you can't criticize the woman for casting her glance to the ether and offering up a smile, right? Maybe I've been tainted by the deluge of Disney-purified brat-pop that crowds the airwaves today. Perhaps it's the way every marketing department from here to Timbuktu has chosen to seize what was once considered honest emotion and manipulate it into a putrid, festering turd of youth-oriented target marketing (Yes, I just typed the t-word. Moving on).
Whatever it is, I have the overwhelming sense that I can't trust the album, for all its merits. It occurred to me while I was on the freeway this morning, as I inhaled the rotten taint simmering off the asphalt and smiled. Smiled, people. Smiled at pollution over here. Grinned at global warming and Al Gore's heavy-lidded admonishments. Yes, it really is as serious as it sounds.
But that's the thing about Spektor's latest effort. The hyper, bouncing pop of the first track, "Fidelity," combined with the climbing mercury (and the fact that my friends have literally come out of hiding and desire to 'hang out' every single second of every single day), makes it nearly impossible not to love everything about life, including pollution. I mean, the stuff's likable. However, likable in a way that is far too immediate, far too much right away. It gives me a reason to want to find something wrong with it, and leaves me with considerable conviction that I will hate it in less than a month. It occurred to me this morning in my car, hurtling over the mess, that I need write about Regina Spektor right now.
Because next week I'll probably hate myself for loving her so much (one needs only to consult my gushing, blubbering, toe-tripping over the Cee-Lo/Danger Mouse oeuvre).
Nevertheless, the contents of the album seems to align with near pitch-perfect accuracy to every good thing about Summer that I can think of. Listening to Begin to Hope is like remembering summers gone by; the songs and the memories both are polished and refined, shaken free of any errant disparities that might separate them from The Ideal. I remember summer as the expansive green sky, a series of moments where the wind rushes over objects and temperature is neither hot nor cold, where the smell is sweet, hot, and heavy. I remember the feeling of lightness, and yes, of hope.
In the same way, Begin to Hope largely slinks by unnoticed as a sum of its parts. It is more of an aura, a shimmering humidity touching everything around it. But the minutiae do add up, and there are moments of brilliance--not unlike the epic night road trip, where stars and company and sights and sounds align. "Field Below" exhales with relaxed ease while the shivering piano breathes new energy into the sonic soundscape. "Fidelity" could very well trump all else in its path toward Summertime Anthemic Glory. There is a moment near the end of "Lady" that gave me thirty seconds of chills in the recollection of hot, sticky summer nights in New Orleans. The song slides so gracefully into "Summer in the City" that you'd think Spektor had unearthed some nostalgic artifacts hidden away and set it all to music.
But it's a fragile happiness. One that could too quickly become infected by its own simplicity, one that could implode on its self-conscious joyousness. And, much like Summer, it's over too quickly.
Best enjoy it while it lasts.