Thursday, May 3, 2007

Tori Amos - "American Doll Posse"

Tori Amos has done cathartic singer-songwriter, dabbled in dance and rave, pioneered the use of piano in modern pop music and constructed an intricate road-trip album. With a chip on her shoulder the size of Texas regarding religion, and a couple of life changing experiences to purge from (including a rape and a few miscarriages), over the years she has always been an intriuging, if not always coherant performer. Unfortunately for her legion of rabid fans, marriage and motherhood dimmed her fire and The Beekeeper was the epitome of bad MOR music– overly long, sentimental and cringeworthy. Panned by critics and fans alike, Tori retreated for a few years to write and record a completely different album. It’s unclear if the abysmal reviews for The Beekeeper bothered her, or if she even noticed them. Tori Amos seems to exist in her own little world, a fact which sometimes lends itself to completely brilliant, insane music, and at other times to painfully introspective dross.

With American Doll Posse, Tori raided a cheap wigs store and created five different personas. Pip, Clyde, Isabel, Tori and Santa all have their own wardrobes, aesthetics, blogs and songs; yet the concept doesn’t get in the way of the music. It’s there to explore if you feel the need, but I suspect many will eschew the concept altogether and focus primarily on the songs. ADP is a mainstream album and there’s no doubt in my mind that Bouncing Off Clouds will become a huge hit, but it’s still livelier, bitcher, rockier and funnier than her previous effort.

After the short opener Yo George fades away, the jaunty Big Wheel grabs the bull by the horns. It’s a big singalong stomper of a tune, with enough sarcasm dripping off her tongue to drive relief into the heart of every jaded fan everywhere. The middle section, where she chants “I am a MILF, don’t you forget” may cause some to cringe inwardly, but the sentiment is plain – She’s baaaack.

On Teenage Hustling, she’s channelling some inner drag queen. It’s a glam-rock influenced, glittering march in which Tori bares her teeth at those who rejected her last album for being too safe. Listen to the bitter slur of her voice as she snarls “Me and my teenage hustling/I’ve been working it since I’z fourteen” and remember that she has been doing this since she was fourteen. Tori knows she messed up, but she also knows that she can do better, and screw those who forget that this bitch can really rock. After Big Wheel, this was the first song I truly loved and spent the entirity of Monday’s schoolday wishing I was at home listening to it. Tori is playing at Oxegen in the summer, but I haven’t got tickets and I wouldn’t particularly want to see her live at a festival anyway, but hearing this song live would be an experience and a half, I’m sure.

Body and Soul is another stand-out, a scuzzy PJ Harvey-tinged monster, with some old-style Tori religious lyrics (“Come and kneel with me, body and soul/Sweet Communion”). Beauty Of Speed sounds like old Tori, where the piano is allowed to breathe easy. She sound revitalised, electrically charged, ready to start afresh.

Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes features some of my favourite all-time lyrics, and ADP has no aspirations to beat this. The lyrics are middling in quality, but there’s nothing as truly awful as “Driving in my Saab/All the way to Iiiireeeland”.

Thankfully, the political bent is less dense than initial reports would lead you to believe. While the lyrics of Dark Side of the Sun (“So how many young men have to lay down/Their life and their love of their woman/For some sick promise of heaven”) come across as vaguely clumsy, the song itself contains enough subtle shifts in texture to reward the patient listener, and Yo George is musically pretty enough to render slightly dated phrases like “Where have we gone wrong America?/Mr. Lincoln we can’t seem to find you anywhere” delicate when paired with her lilting Bosendorfer. The politics scan better when her views aren’t shoved in the listener’s face, such as the circular Father’s Son, which sounds similar to material from Scarlet’s Walk.

On first listen, I dismissed Digital Ghost as cheesy. Time and patience have altered my view radically, it’s currently my favourite song on the album. Placed after three extremely catchy songs in a row (Big Wheel/Bouncing Off Clouds/Teenage Hustling) the opening piano bars and gentle percussion are a quiet reprieve, before gradually building up momentum. The chord changes and vocal pattern when she sings “If somehow I could reach you” are a sly wink to what is coming up, a raised-fist, swaying ballad anthem in which her piano and the electric guitar play seemlessly against one another, neither overshadowing the other. The gutteral line “Your heart only beats 1s and 0s” is probably my favourite single moment of the album.

The album’s biggest failing is it’s length. 23 tracks, even with a couple of very short ones, is far too long for even the most die-hard Toriphile. The sequencing seems a little off, too – while the first five songs are amongst my favourite, the middle section drags and the wonderful Smokey Joe (which for me, conjures up the same insomniac, Edward Hopper imagery that her Purple People does) is in danger of being lost, placed at the 22nd spot. It’s a veritable mystery why something like Posse Bonus is here at all, it’s clearly either a b-side or dvd material. Poppy little tunes like Programmable Soda and Velvet Revolution are fun enough to warrant a few listens, but do tend to drag out proceedings.

I’m interested in what she’ll do next. Personally, I would pay somebody to hire her a decent editor and force her to craft a 12-song piano album with no concept in sight, but then who knows what she’ll churn out. Listening to ADP, I’m more hopeful than ever before.


Damien Kelly said...

There's no pictures....:(:(:(:(

Ann Marie said...

Can't say I've ever listened to any of her music but that was the main criticism I heard from reviews as well, that the album was far too long and could have done with a cut down.

Damien Kelly said...

AHA!!!! You fixed it! I knew you'd listen to reason ;)