Review Summary: Tori's back on form - sort of.
Let me start this review with a brief Tori Amos history lesson, just so you're up to speed on where we were when she released American Doll Posse
. Ignoring her early career with the hair-metal footnote Y Kant Tori Read, her first foray into the public's view came with the bruised, tender masterpiece Little Earthquakes
, and a piano-led cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" that, for some (i.e. me), surpassed the original. Her early songs dealt with feminine identity, religion, faith, and sex, with the ever-present shadow of her traumatic rape experience permeating everything. She followed that with Under The Pink
, which was a small step into new sounds (guitars!) that nevertheless stuck with the formula she'd established. Experimentation set in with the divisive Boys For Pele
, as did a tendency towards very annoying dance remixes of her singles. From there, a miscarriage resulted in Tori again pouring her emotional confusion into an album, this time From The Choirgirl Hotel
. And from there....well. Strange Little Girls
was much better in concept than execution, so too Scarlet's Walk
, and The Beekeeper
was simply steeped in mediocrity from start to finish. Tori's last few albums have been overlong, overblown, and for the most part, quite boring.
She still commands a furiously devoted fanbase, albiet one that decreases with each further disappointment. And it's worth noting that whenever somebody takes the time to point out that she's not really done much of real worth since From The Choirgirl Hotel
, they're instantly accused of not giving anything she does a real chance anymore because it doesn't sound like Little Earthquakes
. People like me are frequently told to get over themselves and accept Tori for what she's become. Thing is, acceptance is not the problem - the problem is that much of the music isn't any good. Why would I want her to keep making albums like Little Earthquakes
or From The Choirgirl Hotel
, anyway" They were albums that came from profoundly depressing experiences. What kind of person would I be if I wished further pain on her when I know she can make great music without tapping into the darkest recesses of her psyche" Look, I'm perfectly capable of acknowledging that "Sweet The Sting", a sultry soul song that sounded like nothing Tori did in her early days, is a flat-out awesome song. But then you had "The Power of Orange Knickers", which was just plain bad, and easily the worst thing Damien Rice has ever put his name to (and among the worst things bearing Tori's name, too). Yeah, her cover of Eminem's "Bonnie & Clyde '97" was utterly inspired, but her covers of "Real Men", "I Don't Like Mondays", and "Raining Blood" were all barely worth listening to twice. I'd love to be able to say Tori Amos is still making good music, but the fact is that she's not. She's churning out albums that feel like endurance tests, albums that pound out song after interchangable song without any real flair, wit, or melodic strength to pull them out from the mire. Yeah, she'll manage maybe 3 great songs an album, but 3 out of 22 is not a good hit rate by anybody's standards.
So why do I even bother listening to her albums any more" Because I have faith, I guess. Tori's still clearly a very talented woman, and when she's at and the mistakes that she's making are so obvious that it's surely not gonna be long before she sorts them out. I mean, for one thing, she could do with lightening up a little, because when she bothers to slip a joke or two in, she's very funny, and that can be the difference between a song being average and good, or good and great. But what's this"
'I am a M-I-L-F, don't you forget!'
YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS. That's my girl!
"Big Wheel" is brilliant. Let's not beat about the bush here - it's a classic Tori Amos song that doesn't revert to the 'classic' Tori Amos sound, and it's exactly what I, for one, want to hear from her at this point. It's ballsy, bouncy, catchy, and funny. "Bouncing Off Clouds" is basically a joke in itself (it's a cheeky nod to those who insist on comparing her to Kate Bush, by directly referencing her hit "Cloudbusting"), but it's also fantastic. The lyrical twists in both are typical Tori Amos territory, with the former taking a swipe at martyrs that seems inspired by her close friend Maynard James Keenan (in particular "Eulogy"), and the latter's pay-off line of 'that won't bring her back' invites the listener to assume she's revisiting the pain she explored on previous albums. "Teenage Hustling"'s lurching guitars bouy a great melody, and "Digital Ghost" is a lush, pretty ballad that sucks you into its world more than anything she's done since "Bonnie & Clyde '97". Add to this the album's opener, the short, sharp "Yo Bush", and it's a 5-track stint that just floors you. All of a sudden, it's like the last 6 years never happened. Tori Amos is brilliant again!
I'm not entirely sure how to explain what's clicked here, but it's basically undeniable that this is 50 times the record that The Beekeeper
was, for a multitude of reasons. It's more affecting in the quiter moments, more powerful in the heavier ones, catchier, much more interesting, and it presents a vision of Tori Amos as an almost playful figure, one more in line with the image she's been giving off in recent television appearances and interviews. Let's face it - "You Can Bring Your Dog"'s country-rock swing is about as profound as Jack Off Jill's "My Cat", but who cares" It's a good song. I'm not coming into this record explicitly looking for another "Winter", and if Tori's suddenly realised that she can sing a line like 'You can bring your dog/I've got three' and make it sound good, or get away with a musical idea like the circus bounce to "Mr. Bad Man" without sounding desperate or coy, all power to the woman. There's even room here for a charming slice of psuedo-Classical music titled "Programmable Soda" - it's something you couldn't imagine she'd have tried in the middle of the much-too-serious The Beekeeper
, and the fact that it works here is telling.
Let's not get too carried away - it's only the best Tori Amos album since From The Choirgirl Hotel
. She's still making silly mistakes, like stuffing 23 tracks on album that takes 78 minutes to wind to its conclusion. God, what's so wrong with only putting 13 songs on an album" This is the third Tori Amos studio album in a row to clock in at well over 70 minutes (another move inspired by Maynard Keenan, perhaps"), and none of them need to be any longer than 50, at most. And, inevitably, a sizeable chunk of these 23 songs don't work. "Fat Slut" feels like an offcut (and a bad one at that), and songs like "Girl Disappearing" and "Father's Son" do little to invite any interest in them. The otherwise good "Code Red" goes on for too long, as does "Almost Rosey" - I'd forgive that if this were a shorter album, but on here it really feels like they're longer than they are. A song like "Posse Bonus", which is quite good, just gets buried by the fact that it's so hard to stay interested for nigh-on an hour and a half. But the good points here are like beacons. It feels, now, like Tori Amos has finally moved into a latter-day phase of her career that will work for her. If this is the Tori that's going to be writing her records from now on, then we should be celebrating.