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Far ()

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Regina Spektor worked with no less than four big-name producers on Far, all of them with very different backgrounds: David Kahne was her collaborator on 2006's Begin to Hope; Garret "Jacknife" Lee counts R.E.M. and U2 among his credits; Jeff Lynne's lavish sound is famous on ELO's albums; and Mike Elizondo has worked with Fiona Apple and Maroon 5. It's something of a surprise, then, that Far sounds so homogenized. On Soviet Kitsch and Begin to Hope, Spektor's wide-eyed moments were balanced with darker, knowing songs that kept her music grounded. Here, almost all of the rough or unpredictable edges have been smoothed away, and all that's left is Spektor's sweet, quirky side. At times, Far gets close to being unbearably precious, whether it's putting Spektor's name in all lowercase letters in the liner notes, her dolphin on the otherwise charming "Folding Chair," or lyrics like "We made our own computer out of macaroni pieces" on the chirpy opener, "The Calculation." Even the album's darker tracks, such as the percussion-heavy "Machine," are surprisingly sugary compared to her previous work. However, Spektor's guileless voice and delivery allow her to get away with sounds and ideas that would be horribly cloying in the hands of almost any other artist. She manages to make a song with the chorus "Eet, eet, eet" catchy and affecting, and fashions an observant and witty story out of returning a wallet to Blockbuster Video. Still, Far's best moments occur when Spektor turns down the whimsy a few notches. It's probably not a coincidence that the Kahne-produced "Human of the Year" shares some of Begin to Hope's intimacy and ambition, but "Blue Lips" and "Man of a Thousand Faces" also let Spektor's more mature -- but not overly serious -- side shine. Likewise, "Two Birds" and "One More Time with Feeling" show that she hasn't lost her touch for deceptively pretty pop with clever lyrics. While Far is far from bad, it doesn't quite live up to expectations, either, based on all the talent involved in making it and how fully Spektor expressed herself on Begin to Hope. ~ Heather Phares, Rovi Hide synopsis

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