Tori Amos! This is the ancient goddess, uh, Gargamel talking! As we learned from your new autobiography, Piece By Piece, a defining point in your artistic development was when you took ‘shrooms and “rapped” with Lucifer, whose linguistic idiom was suspiciously similar to yours, and you mean this very seriously. Which is cool! But having used my mystical powers of “reading” and “listening to your albums,” I also have some advice.
The book can be good. When you’re lucidly discussing your multiple miscarriages, it’s fantastic. But mainly you’re explaining how your performance style, like, embodies the archetype of Aleutian goddess Fha’geenra, which is maddeningly vague. So your music results from “understanding the language of the spirit world.” Does the spirit world like crappy music? Does that relieve you of responsibility for writing it?
This all helps to explain the quality bell curve of your music, which began with crisp, well-structured pop songs married to straightforward, honest lyrics. But from To Venus and Back on, it increasingly resembled your in-concert improvs: same five chords, same vocal noises, same dynamic arc, starting plinky and breathy and rising to controlled yelling of sheeeahh, sheeeahh over a pounded-out minor seventh. Worse, you started taking the unfortunate, world music-y instrumentation choices you’d dabbled with on Choirgirl even further.
So your new The Beekeeper is Tori-by-numbers, which isn’t necessarily bad—”Barons of Suburbia” whips the riff from “Precious Things” into the kind of ecstatic coda “Precious” itself builds to in concert. But mainly there’s either promising melodies (the “Crucify”-aping “Parasol”) ruined by cringe-y lyrics, or decent lyrical ideas executed like a Yoplait commercial. (“This is sooo good.” “Pirates good!” Cue bongos.)
If there’s a defining moment, it’s the coda of “Witness.” Backed by a gospel choir (!), you repeat the line “thought I had a witness,” but where it should be accusatory, the straight-from-the-Tori Amos-magnetic-poetry-set word boy dribbles from your mouth like half-chewed crumb cake over the lips of an Alzheimer’s patient. Also, one song has mandolins and bongos. Holy shit.
But there’s still time to repent! To stop treading water, throwing red meat to your creepy-ass fan base (trust me, I’ve been there). To take chances, make shifts, try new things! The power of Gargamel compels you! Also, stop biting Jay-Z. Those are his mouth noises on “Cars and Guitars,” girl!
Tori Amos plays Hammerstein Ballroom April 8.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 29, 2005