Review Summary: Tori Amos finds comfort and complacency. Oh dear.
There's little doubt that Tori Amos is most often linked with a cliff-note view of culture and entertainment during the 90s. Putting the generalizing categorizations aside, though, an artistic run as remarkable and affecting as the one she had with breakthrough album Little Earthquakes
up until the enticingly plugged-in From the Choirgirl Hotel
is a feat to be revered. And although she’s still privileged with a sizeable hoard of adoring fans most among said group would attest to the idea that her discography this side of the millennium has been, well, somewhat inconsistent. Whilst I’m of the opinion that Scarlet’s Walk
is a solid, and often amazing, release, my point of disappointment and lowered expectations easily began with listening to The Beekeeper
By no means a terrible album The Beekeeper
, first and foremost, portrays Amos as a singer songwriter who’s actually pretty happy about her life. After the release of the previous record she gave birth to a daughter that seems to have brought much joy and put a lot of things in order in her personal life (which she often confirms in interviews). “Ribbons Undone” taps into this particular relationship and what could've been something refreshing in Tori's career is, unfortunately, a real clunker; the first track she’s released - pony motifs and all - to be way too saccharine. There's not truth in the belief that happiness in life leads to inherently worse art, but in the case of Amos on this record it can be an easy go-to answer. What might’ve been painful on earlier releases in the 90s also felt hugely powerful because of the vitality and urgency that was in the music. There are no such thrills to be found here, which isn’t always a bad thing; evidenced by the lead single “Sleeps With Butterflies”, a lovely affair employing pretty piano playing and Tori's innate pop sensibilities
Really, the problems on the album are not due to the artist having reached some kind of personal peace as much as a lack of focus. Take a listen to some of the outwardly political tracks (a continuation of her focus from Scarlet’s Walk
) like “Barons of Suburbia”, “The Power of Orange Knickers” and “Mother Revolution”. The production drags, staler than ever before because of propelling, seemingly unmotivated, further into adult contemporary territory. The overload of summer sunshine in the lead single is a nice accompaniment, but turns bland once Amos wants to tackle serious subjects. As a result the songs pass by without any particularly memorable hooks or challenging musical/lyrical motifs; thus nullifying the political impact. “Mother Revolution”, particularly, is a disappointment for anyone’s reasonable attempt at shooing off Kate Bush comparisons, as both the subject angle and melody of the track is eerily similar to “Army Dreamers”.
Certainly there is a sense of complacency on this release: Tori’s singing rarely dares more than hitting and sustaining the notes. At the very least, a more adventurous performance would befit her use of idiosyncratic lyrics, but there seems to be no passion for such a goal, perhaps a by-product of entering the studio with barely any new collaborators than those she's worked with for seven years. Even with the addition of a gospel choir, on tracks like “Sweet the Sting” and “Witness”, the results are surprisingly lackluster and devoid of character.
A few pleasant surprises arrive in the midst of all the tracks, however. “Original Sinsuality” sounds like a stellar two-minute B-side from her debut release and “Toast” is a mature and wistful farewell to Amos’ newly deceased brother. Yet the album’s a hard listen taken as a whole, (even looking aside from the weird decision to deem it a concept album despite of paper thin thematic structures holding the nineteen tracks together): Some of Amos’ worst songs are scattered through the running time: In “Cars and Guitars” she actually sings about herself as a car and the pirate/infidelity metaphor in “Jamaica Inn” evokes laughter. And then there’s “Ireland”, which, for my money, is her very worst song by a mile. Singing “Driving in my Saab…
is never going to be a cool or humorous line.
Fortunately, following Amos past this point does reward in an interesting career trajectory that’s well worth checking out, albeit with some reservations. Yet this is really the first proper dud in Tori Amos’ discography: a complacent, overlong and bland release from an otherwise excitingly eccentric artist.