It’s pretty amazing how many people don’t know who Regina Spektor is. She is currently resting in the high top 5 of the VH1 Video Countdown for her biggest hit to date, Fidelity, and CBS ran an entire special on her. Still, she has not received the pop music glory so many want to see her achieve. No matter how good she is, there is a clear reason why she hasn’t received insane amounts of fame. She never compromises her own personal integrity in her music for pop sensibilities. Her sensitive, spasmodic piano-based music trolls the musicality of most pop singers and her voice is spot on to sing over her brilliant compositions. Although classically trained, her music really does not show it, as her compositional roots lie much closer to jazz. No album showcases that better than her debut 11:11.
11:11 could signify this being Regina's wish to create music, no matter how simple or self-indulgent. The entire album takes 4 things, Regina’s voice, her piano, an upright bass, and occasionally some light percussion. 11:11 is Regina’s most intimate album, an album with all the time in the world for her to show off her vocal talent and poetic skills, as well as her sheer originality. Despite writing clever lyrical hooks, both serious and humorous, she resorts to strange vocal noises on this album more than ever. Pavlov’s Daughter, the longest song on the album, is the biggest provider of these noises. Her vocal accents, sometimes highly suggestive, are so strange but it gives her own unique style for sure. Even when she sings normal words, her voice oscillates between octaves often and for most singers, this would just be a proof of inadequacy. However, she oscillates with such intent that it is so clearly what she heard in her head. Musically, Pavlov’s Daughter switches between a dark piano ballad and a barebones rap, which allows the song to stretch to its 7:45 length without getting old.
Music for late night clubs often draws thoughts of laid back jazz, and Regina brings in the most jazz influence on this album. Rejazz, as the title might suggest, brings the jazz influence to full form. Rejazz is one of the simplest songs on the album, just Regina’s voice and a fantastic upright bass walking a bassline. The bass takes plenty of liberties with the bassline, filling all over the place to give some musical interest as if Regina’s voice wasn’t enough. She sings all through her range, reaching her high notes that people fell in love with in Samson, but she starts the song much more calm in her lower range. Rejazz showcases some her best singing, but the best is certainly the aptly titled I Want to Sing. It has to be, because the entire song is just Regina singing. Her pitch is perfect throughout, singing excellent color tones to make things slightly jazzy. Her vibrato is superb as well, taken from her idols of the time Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald. Meanwhile, the lyrics of I Want to Sing are much simpler than Regina’s standards. That isn’t necessarily bad, because the point and purpose of the song is a true love song, not any witty comment on the idea of love or society. As her sound has progressed, it seems there may be no more of Regina just singing without more grandiose arrangements, but I Want to Sing will always call back to her earlier days.
Still, most of the album is standard Regina fare, what one can expect from a live performance of hers. Love Affair, Sunshine, and many others put Regina where she is most comfortable, at a piano. Her piano music often derives from simple grooves but she throws in her own unique fills to make it her own. The compositional skill for piano on 11:11 is not fully matured as compared to her later work, and sometimes the music feels a bit too bare. The album finds it’s only major flaw there, and the album bores for a bit, with some tracks really standing out and some extremely forgettable. Regina Spektor proved her potential with her debut and laid the groundwork for her best music. 11:11 also shows other influences that she later abandoned, especially a strong influence from Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday, both of which she said were heavy influences while she was in college. Take a listen, it is certainly worthwhile, but her later work is a much better place to start.