There’s a certain length of career at which point a recording artist ends up getting the same general review with every new album. “New direction.” “Best album in years.” For every single album. Pearl Jam is in this category. Tori Amos is, too. And for the most part it’s bullshit. The reviewer only notices that it’s different from the only albums they remember from the artist, a decade or so ago, and they notice it’s pretty good, and they don’t have to remember that the last albums might have been pretty good, too, they just remember they weren’t worth remembering…weren’t great.
However, this really is a new direction for Amos. According to Wikipedia, she was very intentional about this new direction, too, wrapping up all of her prior career into a box set before embarking on this album. In contrast to the frequent, deliciously sweet and comforting melodies of The Beekeper, Amos primary challenges the listener here. Musically and lyrically.
Lyrically, things are very political, with lots of songs about war and calling out President Bush on the album’s first track. Musically and conceptually, things are all over the place, again intentionally. There are, I guess, five doll personae that perform these songs. Looking at their groupings on Wikipedia, I don’t get it. If I’d been asked to put these songs into five groups, what’s listed there is nowhere near what I would have come up with.
After perfecting what she’d done on From The Choirgirl Hotel, To Venus And Back, Scarlet’s Walk, and The Beekeper, she’s a bit back in her Boys For Pele phase, dishing out melodies like sandpaper and emphasizing overwrought vocal stylings over soothing sounds. But I don’t want to compare this too much to Boys For Pele, because I have no idea what she meant with that disc. It still hurts. And in fact, as the notes below show, I gradually open up to the songs here, track by track, something I’ve been much slower to do with Boys For Pele.
No, it’s not even so much a musical new direction here as that it’s so varied. It seems stilted in parts, yet it somehow still holds together more than The Beekeper, which I felt wasn’t so much of an album as a collection of songs. Like its predecessor, this is another long one. 23 tracks over 78 minutes, proving, I don’t know, that nobody has more listening stamina than Tori Amos fans? More challenging and nearly as long, but somehow it’s more cohesive.
There is one area where this truly is a new musical direction for Amos, though. There’s more cock rock here, with heavy downbeats and strutting guitars. A couple of these songs almost could have been done by Aerosmith or KISS.
In general, there’s just more guitars, drums, and hard rawk here. It’s a general departure from her earlier career, and a stark contrast with the album’s immediate predecessor. She’s toyed with this stuff before, but never the full-on embrace we see here. Put another feather-of-the-amazing in Tori Amos’ cap, as she proves yet again just how phenomenal, in the literal sense, she is.
Mix: “Bouncing Off Clouds,” “Digital Ghost,” “You Can Bring Your Dog,” “Almost Rosey”
Keep: “Hey George,” “Big Wheel,” “Teenage Hustling,” “Mr. Bad Man,” “Girl Disappearing,” “Secret Spell,” “Devils And Gods,” “Father’s Son,” “Programmable Soda,” “Code Red,” “Roosterspur Bridge,” “Dark Side Of The Moon”
Like: “Fat Slut,” “Body And Soul,” “Beauty Of Speed,” “Velvet Revolution,” “Posse Bonus,” “Smokey Joe,” “Dragon”
- Hey George – Seems to pretty clearly be about Bush. I didn’t think this was even all that song-ish at first, but now it seems obviously so melodic and progressive and wonderful.
- Big Wheel –
- Bouncing Off Clouds – Also pretty immediately accessible (like “Digital Ghost”) and reminiscent of her past work. Very similar to something off of Girls From The Choirgirl Hotel. It kinda sounds bad, though, like it should be much bigger but it just ends up getting pinched. The album is great up through this point. And even the next three tracks are ones I enjoy pretty well.
- Teenage Hustling – Very rawk. Like Aerosmith could have done this. Was tough to listen to for a while, but definitely opened up to it.
- Digital Ghost – One of the most immediately accessible. And likable. It sounds a lot like one she’s done before, though, but I can’t quite reach it…. “Your heart only beats ones and ohs”
- You Can Bring Your Dog – This should go on a mix for Boy, who has three of his favorite stuffed dog. “You can bring your dog/I got three.”
- Mr. Bad Man – Mmm, not crazy about this at first. She mentions wolves in the prior song and in this one. “There’s a gold star, on a gendarme/So she asked him, “Hey, can you hold my song?/It’s the one piece, that I got left/So hide it well,” she said” That verse cinches it as keep, it might not have been otherwise.
- Fat Slut – Short. She does that breathy squeak thing I can’t stand. Not really into this one. Only 40 seconds. Warmed to it quite a bit, but still not an easy listen.
- Girl Disappearing – Seems like a bad stretch here. Not into this. Boring. I’ve been thinking the prior album this one is closest to is Boys For Pele and she even mentions palominos here, which I remember her doing on that disc. War imagery here is riding on backs of palominos, primed for an attack. Strings part here is pretty cool. Eventually warmed to entire song, but the boring criticism stands somewhat.
- Secret Spell – Seems annoyingly simple. Does have an annoying edge, but it’s got good parts, too.
- Devils And Gods – Very short. 52 seconds.
- Body And Soul – Another one with that hard edge like “Teenage Hustling.” Not as good as that song, but fine.
- Father’s Son – Slow and moody. Quite good.
- Programmable Soda – What? It’s got a Sgt. Pepper feel in the horns. It’s actually pretty good, but it is so jarring occuring after the serene “Father’s Son.”
- Code Red –
- Roosterspur Bridge – Slower.
- Beauty Of Speed – On the “easier” side of things, but kinda boring and repetitive. I’ve got it as like or keep, but I think I’m leaning toward like.
- Almost Rosey – I might like this one. It ended up being one of my faves.
- Velvet Revolution – Another short one. Only 1:17. Definitely has an obvious Eastern European thing going on. Did you know the Wikipedia pages for the Velvet Revolution and Ceausescu don’t reference each other? How is that possible given their geographic and temporal collocations of the former and the downfall of the latter?
- Dark Side Of The Sun – Considered ‘like’ for a while, but it feels so pivotal to the album that I don’t think I can do that
- Posse Bonus – WTF? Has some decent enough points, but that intro…ack.
- Smokey Joe –
- Dragon – Starts very slow and morose. Very challenging. Tempted to make it keep instead of like since it’s the last track, the last two have been ‘like’, and this puts a nice bow around it. But I guess “Dark Side Of The Sun” isn’t a bad wrap up, either.