Sound — 7
The album begins with one of Spektor's most well known songs, "Fidelity", a simple and quirky little pop tune with building verses, and a hook-fueled chorus. The song stands more as a representation of her incredibly beautiful vocal talent rather than the piano playing, as the keyboarding working is simple and sparsely changes throughout the song. The lyrics, "I never love nobody fully/Always one foot on the ground /And by protecting my heart truly/I got lost/In the sounds/I hear in my mind," are sung with such a cleansing crispness, it is difficult to sit through the entire song without singing along. The piano and vocals make a swap in the next song, "Better", which is essentially part two of "Fidelity". This second track explodes with a deathly combo of guitar and piano, the guitar of which provided by Nick Valensi of The Strokes fame. Using that same hook of the previous song, "Better" takes what "Fidelity" brought and adds a instrumental surgery to it, giving a more rock flair rather than piano plus vocals throughout the whole album.
Lyrics — 7
This quality - her smarts - is present in every aspect of her album, "Begin To Hope", except perhaps in its made-for-TV-movie title. Her third full-length and first recorded under her major-label contract, the record was produced by Dave Kahne, who has turned knobs for The Bangles, Paul McCartney, and, um, Sugar Ray. Under his direction, Begin to Hope sounds expensive: There's a hermetic studio quality to the tones, a studied three dimensionality in the interplay of instruments, and a perfectionism in the mix that suggests a bigger budget and a nicer studio. Elegant beats sculpted from orchestral samples adorn opener "Fidelity" and "On The Radio", while precisely calibrated synths enter and exit on cue. "Hotel Song" trips along on a snappy drumbeat and a spritely chorus that has the professional bearing of Brill Building pop. On "Lady", a paean to Billie Holiday, Spektor duets with a mournful jazz band that cuts in and out abruptly like a staticky transmission from the past.
Overall Impression — 6
One downside to this crisp production is the loss of place: 2001's "11:11" and 2003's "Soviet Kitsch" both sounded like they could have been recorded in some smoky Bronx bar or in a friend's living room, but "Begin To Hope" evokes no particular setting or venue. Nevertheless, Spektor sounds confident and comfortable. Her songwriting remains as testy and idiosyncratic as ever - as well as ambitious. With all the fanfare and bombast of a battle hymn, "Apres Moi" is a Spektorian epic about the weight of mortality and heritage. She sings from the perspective of a statue, perhaps the one she sung about in "Us". She rewrites the Beatitudes to instill a little paranoia: "Be afraid of the lame, they'll inherit your legs/ Be afraid of the old, they'll inherit your soul." Then there's that Madame de Pompadour reference: "Apres moi le deluge/ After me comes the flood," she sings defiantly, as if the Russians have just defeated her very own Franco-Austrian armies. Spektor sings a verse in Russian, then leads the song to an stirring finale featuring a small symphony led by a rickety drum set. The song would sound like a stunt if it didn't make so much sense and have so much feeling behind it. Occasionally, though, Spektor can overdo it. On "That Time", she recounts a string of friendly reminiscences: "Remember that time I ate only tangerines for a month," she asks some unnamed companion before intoning, "So cheap and JUI-cy!" At the end she turns the song on its head with the sudden memory, "Remember that time you OD'ed?" The change in tone is a little too obvious and complete, like a movie with a cheap twist ending. Still, Spektor is bold enough almost to sell the song, and on the whole her performance throughout "Begin To Hope" exhibits new levels of control and direction, reaching a point where the song and the singing are inseparable.