Regina Spektor Begin to Hope

As much as fans of Regina Spektor were anticipating this follow-up to 2003’s beautiful Soviet Kitsch, it’s probably fair to say that no one saw this album cover art coming. Emblazoned with a clutch of pink stars, a dangling heart charm and flawless glamour shot, it exudes such surprisingly Lilith Fair sensibilities that Spektor might as well be reaching up to touch fingers with a floating Sarah McLachlan while she’s at it. This proves to be fair warning for a disc that marks a bold but awkward departure for the New York piano artist. Leaving behind the charmingly DYI production values of past efforts, Spektor has collaborated here with producer David Kahne (Paul McCartney) to create a slick and intriguingly dichotomous album in which she attempts to straddle the chasm between howling indie girl and fairy-winged pop princess with mixed results. It’s easy to get discouraged with songs like "Fidelity,” featuring a jaunty beat and staccato string hits à la Annie Lennox circa 1992, and the tepid soft rock of "Better.” Spektor stalwarts will feel rewarded nearer the middle as "Field Below” and "Hotel Song” feel like outtakes from the previous album, and the dark, broodingly baroque piano of "Aprés Moi” is a deluge of Spektor’s fears and desires delivered with the unselfconscious yelps and strained vowels that make her voice so inextricably hers. Beneath all that studio magic, the songs and singing are still hers, but Spektor seems out of place in such a sterile musical environment; her delivery is too improvisational, her material too casually brilliant to work within such predictable confines, and middle ground is too rarely found. Ultimately, Begin to Hope is an interesting experiment — but let’s hope it leads elsewhere. (Sire)