Review Summary: Tori on autopilot.
Back in 2007, when I was about to review Tori's American Doll Posse
, my best friend pointed me in the direction of a review written by one of his best friends. This review - which appeared on the now-defunct Stylus
- asserts that 'the only way we’re going to get a good album from her in this day and age is if someone has the decency to abduct and kill her daughter'. It's since become infamous in its brutal cruelty (do a Google search for 'tori amos beekeeper review' and it's second only to Metacritic), and the very mention of it draws great vengeance and furious anger from even the most non-committal Tori Amos fan.
The biggest problem facing Abnormally Attracted to Sin
is that it actually makes that Stylus review sound reasonable.
A Tori Amos album release has, in all honesty, become a complete non-event for all but her biggest fans. That she retains that fanbase at all, let alone one so big, and that they remain so devoted, is an impressive achievement for a still-active artist releasing more than one album every 5 years, but year on year the ranks of that fanbase dwindle. For rock critics, each album since Scarlet's Walk
has been nothing more than an excuse to print a picture with a Botox joke underneath, and to write one paragraph that involves the phrase 'Kate Bush's little sister', which as an opinion is about as stupid as saying that Lewis Hamilton and Mike Tyson must be twins (because they're both black and do sports, right?) Record stores don't even put her new albums on show anymore, burying them under 'A' in rock & pop. It's been an unfair reflection of the reality for a while now, because even without considering her still-impressive sales figures, she's kept quietly batting songs out of the park the whole time - "Sweet The Sting", "Big Wheel", "Bouncing Off Clouds", "'97 Bonnie & Clyde", "I Can't See New York", "A Sorta Fairytale", "Glory of the '80s" - and even songs like "The Power of Orange Knickers" and "Datura" have been awful in an interesting, memorable, even charming way.
To say there aren't any great songs here would be too big a compliment - there aren't even any songs like "The Power of Orange Knickers". It would take a superhuman effort to remember anything about this album after the first listen - the never-ending stream of bland, vaguely sultry ballads just wash over the listener and leave nothing behind, not even disappointment or annoyance. It's a spectacularly unaffecting listen. And that's just the surface flaw - the problems continue from there on in. Conceptually, the album is hollow, which is a first for Amos - the vague ideas of exploring the links between religion, sin, and womanhood ring hollow, especially when she had that territory nailed on both Little Earthquakes
and, particularly, Boys For Pele
. The concepts behind Scarlet's Walk
and American Doll Posse
may have drawn scorn and bemusement, but at least they existed - Abormally Attracted to Sin
has no such idea to anchor it.
Sonically, the same lack of a coherent idea applies. The only constant seems to be that Tori wanted the album to sound sexy without sounding confrontational, which would tie in nicely with her choice of Karen Collins to shoot the artwork. Sadly, it misses the point entirely; a point made all the more confusing for the existence of "Sweet The Sting", her sexiest song ever, released just 4 years ago. This is music that hints at sex but remains devoid of passion; it's a bedroom mixtape for a 60-year old couple. It never really decides where it wants to be on a few other points, either - it never reaches areas where you'd really describe it as 'experimental', but it's certainly a step removed from some of the easy listening AOR stuff on "The Beekeeper", for instance. Similarly, it seems to skirt around the edges of being epic without committing to it. It's a disappointment, given that Tori is clearly at her best when she flings herself at an idea - any idea - head-first with conviction.
The thing that keeps this album afloat is, quite simply, Tori's natural talent. She's simply too smart and too gifted to ever make a truly abysmal record, and in line with that, the songs that make up this album are merely boring, never offensively bad. And yet, just because it's poor rather than awful is damning with faint praise, and quite rightly. Abnormally Attracted to Sin
is, by quite some distance, her weakest album yet. So much for that 'return to form' I harped on about two years ago.