Thank you, Zemfira!
The Ufa-born vocalist and her self-named band shot to fame in the late ’90s in Russia and other former Soviet states, largely by following a full schedule of tour dates and securing plenty of air play on Russian radio. However, the elfin frontwoman has not let fame go to her head. She maintains her privacy, avoids publicity, and refuses to comment on media stories about her life and relationships. This distance has helped maintain the interest of the Russian press and the loyalty of their fans.
Because their lyrics are solely in Russian, Zemfira is rarely mentioned in English-language media. To be honest, I knew little — OK, nothing — about this band before moving to Moscow. After a friend introduced me to their music, I started to recognize Zemfira songs played in bars, clubs, and on the radio.
How can you review an album when you can’t understand what the band is singing about? Well, although my Russian is (very) slowly improving — now I can catch a handful of words and phrases among the lyrics — my limited comprehension has not hindered my enjoyment of the group and, in particular, of their sixth and latest album, Spasibo (Thank you), released last year. Zemfira’s haunting voice and the variety of music styles which accompany it translate for themselves. The album begins with the almost psychedelic sounds of V Metro (On the metro) and then eases into the sometimes summery, soothing notes of Voskresenye (Sunday) and Dom (Home). But don’t let these first two tracks fool you into thinking that the remainder of the album is as sugary or smooth. The high-energy Malchik (Boy) provides a shift in tempo with a staccato start — you’ll find yourself toe-tapping and singing (or, for the non-Russian speakers among us, chump-chumping) along, barely realizing that you have now entered the erratic fairground pace of Gospoda (Gentlemen), or tangoed into the firework samples of Ya Polubela Vas (I loved you).
Apart from the chirpy Malchik, my favorite track has to be Sneg Nachnyotsa (Snow is Coming). The melodious blend of instruments and voice reflects the influence of The Cure’s early work and leaves you wondering which direction Zemfira will lead you next. The question is soon answered by 1000 Let (1000 Years), which starts off melancholy. If the balmy songs on the CD up until this point have lulled you into peaceful relaxation, the caustic screams which interrupt the latter track will make you sit up and take note.
In short, Zemfira’s Spasibo is a great album, to which a short review cannot do justice. We non-Russian speakers can only imagine the beauty and diversity of the lyrics which accompany the moody yet melodic music on this CD. — Claire Marsden