Tori Amos
To Venus and Back



by hamid95 USER (9 Reviews)
July 8th, 2015 | 1 replies

Release Date: 1999 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The little sister of its predecessor, but worthy of more than what its relative obscurity might imply.

(This is a review of the original studio album on this double disc release)

It is a commonly accepted, though regrettable thing to say that Tori Amos’ discography recently so far isn’t very consistent. There are still ongoing discussions, both within Amos’ devote fan base, and outside – with critics of her music, in terms of which of her albums are “less than successful”, “disappointing”, “terrible”; whatever degree of displeasure one might feel. Alternatively, it’s hard to disregard her due to inconsistency, as her early output proved to continuously find favor with the music press and a big part of the public. Therefore, a heavily discussed question also surfaces about which album shows her as an artist capable of making excellent music, reaching a career apex.

To Venus And Back is at an odd place in this discussion of her output. A new studio album of partly previously intended b-sides, following the busy From The Choirgirl Hotel only a year later, and accompanied by a live disc showcasing a much more versatile and vibrant Amos, enthusiastically entertaining an audience. The consequence of this being that it’s easy to see the studio album being forgotten. What’s on the album doesn’t make matters simpler.

Many would argue it’s the first to be released by Amos which is less than something to be incredibly excited about for her fans. The music is, however, not anywhere near bad, exactly. It still stands as one of her better releases, for sure, but there are plenty of flaws to be found; both at surface level and by delving deeper.

What strike one in the very first moments is that Venus sounds a whole lot like its immediate predecessor. Should not be too hard to believe, but really. First track and single “Bliss”, a great opener, quickly brings, however, thoughts to first track on Choirgirl, “Spark”; rocking through similar structures and motions. The very same feeling of déj* vu occurs with slightly sinister, electronically dominated “Juarez”, much like, well, the second track “Cruel” from the previous album. And this feeling of familiarity continues, with songs’ intentions having been presented before, and to better effect. “Concertina” goes for the club-dance area that “Raspberry Swirl” covered so well and “Lust” floats around akin to “Liquid Diamonds”. It isn’t a direct critique of the songs, necessarily. “Concertina” washes in with synths and perseveres with femininity and catchiness. “Lust” also competently makes good use of its production.

If there is a new element entering on this album, it is a filtered trip hop influence paired with heavy use of synths. Unfortunately, though mixed together like someone gleefully exploring the audio space between your headphones, this ends up becoming more of an obstacle. The resulting additions are far from a new take on these elements and makes things sound more dated than other Tori Amos albums from the 90’s. Quite in fact, with the amount of filtered, often muffled, production happening on many of the tracks, an overall impression is that the album sounds dry and haze-like. It’s a real shame about this unnecessary layer, because Venus is, more often than not, hitting success at the core of its songs.

The aforementioned “Bliss” is stuffed musically, but isn’t affected and roars with power. Meanwhile, the trance-ridden second half of “Datura” is yet another highlight with electronic instrumentation accelerating, peaking and slowing down with organic progression between bandmates, making for a very engaging listen. It is usually, however, the sparser tracks that prove the clearest winners. “Josephine” follows the perspective of Napoleon’s unhappy wife and is treated a stark treatment with drums, piano and vocals split with clear borders, while the longing melancholy of the ballad “1000 Oceans” makes it the most memorable, emotional track.

Though she still went through two other miscarriages around this time, there are fewer overt mentions toward this here. From what we have, instead, Tori usually works best when working with displeased longing or reflections tinged with sadness. When she’s not the writing starts to veer into the silly and ridiculous. More so than with the cryptic codes on Boys For Pelé.

”Passion vine
Texas sage
Indigo spires salvia
Confederate jasmine
Royal cape plumbago…”

“Datura”, for instance, is high on psychedelic plants, but is it worth listening to Tori Amos naming every plant in her garden" The track is eight very ambitious minutes in structure and content, but the first four are rendered silly through these lyrics; making the song not reach a decent groove until the halfway point, with the second half emerging. Amos has always been known for being an eccentric, but this time it’s more perplexing than engaging – primarily due to the lack of emotional substance and conviction. She treats lighter subjects and streams of thoughts here with the same serious dedication to obscure and make constructions around. And it really proves not to be as interesting.

These mentioned issues can be summed up in a general way. The main problem with To Venus And Back, albeit a good album, being that it’s a mixed bag. No one song is wholly bad, but they range from being easily worth their runtime to forgettable. The latter due to some misses in experimentation. However, there are hits made at a much more rapid and rewarding pace. It makes this album worthy of getting to know; despite of the lack of attention it gets in the larger context of her discography. And it’s absolutely a definitive choice if you’re a fan of Tori Amos.

Recent reviews by this author
Tori Amos American Doll PosseTori Amos The Beekeeper
Tori Amos Scarlet's WalkTori Amos From the Choirgirl Hotel
Tori Amos Boys for PeleTori Amos Under the Pink

user ratings (101)

Comments:Add a Comment 
July 8th 2015


Album Rating: 3.5

Really slowly finding the time/being bored enough to churn these out.

A bit satisfied about this one, though, as it wasn't reviewed.

Corrections are appreciated, as always.

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