Thursday, May 22, 2014

Review: Tori Amos, Unrepentant Geraldines

Tori Amos is back with her first pop release since 2009's Abnormally Attracted to Sin.  Since then, she made a seasonal album, Midwinter Graces; the impressive Night of Hunters with reworkings of classical pieces; and wrote the music for the London stage production The Light Princess.

Unrepentant Geraldines draws some of its inspiration from paintings, but otherwise does not strain conceptually, as she has a tendency to do (American Doll Posse, anyone?).  Tori is now 50, and aging is a theme of the album, bluntly faced in "16 Shades of Blue" ("There are those who say / I am now too old to play").  She addresses a long-term romantic relationship in "Wedding Day" and "Wild Way."

Tori's 13-year-old daughter Tash (short for Natashya) first sang on Midwinter Graces, then on Night of Hunters.  Here, they duet on "Promise," in which they offer assurances that they will be there for each other.  It is a touching song, although Tash has now styled her vocals in an R&B-inspired way that can be distracting.

Tori has long drawn inspiration from mythology of all kinds, and the beautiful song "Selkie" references a Scottish myth of a creature that lives as a seal in the sea and a human on land.  Standout "Oysters" showcases equally dexterous piano and vocals.  This goosebumps-inducing song is right up there with the best output of her career.  Tori describes the song as being "about a woman trying to work through a lifetime of memories to find out who she really is."  She sings, "I'm working my way back to me again."

This is a notably stripped-down album, with Tori's keys and vocals at the forefront.  All other instrumentation is generated by her sound engineer husband Mark Hawley.  The album would have benefited from other musicians on the tracks that include more than her vocals and piano.  However, the strength of Tori's musicianship relegates this to more of a minor issue.  Basically, I'm left to marvel at the great songs that she continues to produce.

Rating:  4 out of 5 stars