Regina Spektor’s fifth album, Far, follows all the usual rules and memes of bouncy folk-pop, often with unbridled glee. Yet for all the goofy sparkle, the album is strangely neutered, never brave enough to break out of its paint-by-numbers quirkiness. With the exception of the grand, hymnal “Human of the Year,” Spektor’s work here is much less irreverent than she probably suspects, coming across more like a schizophrenic, overwrought experiment than a spontaneous artistic vision.
As such, Far is much better enjoyed in slices. Tracks like “Two Birds” and “Dance Anthem of the 80s” are single servings of guilty pleasure, their innocent escapism unsustainable but for a few minutes as Spektor’s absurd lyrical observations pop out at listeners like Sesame Street musical vignettes. Laden with a syrupy timbre that lacks any of the subversive venom found in the work of similar songstresses such as Lily Allen or Annie Clark, Spektor’s songs are brainy, farcical, self-obsessed, and often in love with their own inherent cartoony cuteness.
It’s not until the concluding arpeggios of “Man of a Thousand Faces” that Spektor finally takes a break from the overworked antics, her lyricism sounding restrained and intuitive as compared to randomly stringed-together slogans seemingly borrowed from the nearest bumper sticker. Here she leaves behind the flaky-as-adorable posturing long enough to salvage Far from its role as capricious sideshow—and also long enough for listeners to get a glimpse of the songwriting talent that lurks beneath the peculiarity.