“Better” by Regina Spektor

84. Song No. 944: “Better,” Regina Spektor
Begin to Hope, 2006

I don’t think I’ll ever love any Regina Spektor album as much as I love the quirky but heady Soviet Kitsch that introduced me to her music or the joyous experimentation that defined her earliest sound, but the poppier direction of her later stuff is just as charming in its own right.

One of the things I love best about being a longtime fan of Regina Spektor is the sense of sharing an inside joke that comes with seeing some of her indie-label recordings rebirthed as fleshed-out, fully realized versions that still honor their initial incarnations’ raw, honest minimalism by not rewriting but building on it. Seeing the kernel of origin among lush orchestrations is one of those little treats that make her music a little more dimensional and personal and evolutionarily pliant.

Which is maybe why “Better” couldn’t even be eclipsed by its proximity to “Samson,” which I first heard as the devastating intro track to 2002’s Songs and loved just as much as a different version of itself four years later. There is just something about Regina’s older songs that distinguishes themselves from their younger siblings and, while I lack the vocabulary to describe it, whatever it is is frolicking freely throughout the strains and refrains of “Better.”

A song about badly wanting to be the person who takes another’s pain away but knowing both the futility and impossibility of such an impulse is a song I get and that gets me. The one thing worse than knowing the only way you can help is by holding the line until they’re ready is reversing those roles; either way, there’s bonus guilt to navigate at the other end.

There’s a lot to love about this song with its concerned, empathetic lyrics and mostly upbeat music, but what I love the most is that it is such a solid instruction manual for the care and keeping of depressed loved ones. The delicate balance of giving someone their space while assuring them you’re as close as they need you to be is tricky but just as crucial as the mutual give-and-take that speaks for itself to provide comfort in a way no gesture can. It’s not about understanding the why to move things along: It’s about being there at all and for as long as it takes because they know it’ll be their turn to do the same one day, which means that this, too, will eventually pass.

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