Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Review: Tori Amos, "Night of Hunters"
Night of Hunters
Say what you will about Tori Amos, you cannot fuck with her iconoclasm. When her particular flavor of the month left radio's mouth some time around 1998's From The Choirgirl Hotel, she kept herself in the game the way most stars do -- through a series of theme projects. But Tori being Tori, these desperate attempts for relevance took weird, arcane forms: she spent her electronica bid on a half-live double, her covers album was done by "personas" turning male-oriented songs inside out; her road trip mixtape dealt with September 11th; her sellout move was about a beekeeper. Her Christmas album was really a winter solstice album. All of which means she wasn't that desperate.
Having more or less found a home in pop middle age with her Abnormally Attracted to Sin comeback of '09, then, you might assume Tori would settle down there. You would be wrong. Night of Hunters is a classical pop piece commissioned by Deutsche Grammophon, and while her constructs remain cumbersome, her muse has come back full circle. This is her roots album; it just so happens that the fiery redhead behind the Bosendorfer piano has her roots in Bach and Chopin. The form doesn't just suit her, it revitalizes her.
Also because she's Tori, the cultural touchstones come from all over. She's savvy enough to include those two, smart enough to reference Satie and Granados, and strange enough to indulge her love of Mussorgsky and Scarlatti. The concept gels immediately: when she works Charles-Valentin Alkan's "Song of the Madwoman on the Sea-Shore, Prelude op. 31 no. 8" into a shattering portrait of domestic violence, you realize she's on to something.
If that's even what she's doing. Because while that opening proves that Amos' second-greatest virtue -- her clear-eyed, hard-headed version of romanticism -- is still present, her love of mythology has only grown stronger over the past few years. And she isn't making any pop moves for once. The result is the most rewarding sort of experience for her fans, but also the most difficult one for outsiders to get into, a 72-minute song cycle that stays idling at the same slow, measured, brooding place while Tori goes on about a fire muse, wolf spirit guides, and The Seven Lords of Time. Average track time: 5:16.
There are a few nice touches here and there, but they're all conceptual. If you don't already know about the Book of Taliesin, you may be lost by "The Chase." And it's not like Kate Bush or Joanna Newsom ever did four -- not one but four -- duets with her 11-year-old daughter Natashya Hawley, portraying her inner child and providing some much needed levity (Dig her Jewish-grandmother delivery of the line "Reactive, but I can work with it, dollface"). Taken in small doses, anyone could be convinced that Tori Amos is making the most beautiful and daring music of her career. But like one of her trademark lyrical visionquests, Night of Hunters requires constant attention... unless you want to end up stranded in Tori's emotional landscape.
Graded using the Third Eye Method:
Impact: 75. Tori's personal vision remains clear, even when her methods are decidedly batty.
Invention: 82."He'll play a Beatles tune / me, more a Bach fugue / Is this such a great divide / between your world and mine? / They both can purify / and heal what was cut and bruised."
Integrity: 83. You love Tori? You want this.