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Spotlight on: Tori Amos

CDs Reviewed:
Scarlet's Walk
Crucify [EP]
From the Choirgirl Hotel
Strange Little Girls

Cover image/photo of Scarlet's Walk by Tori Amos Tori Amos, Scarlet's Walk

Tori Amos is nothing if not experimental. With the stripped-down Little Earthquakes, the more rock-influenced Under the Pink, the heart-wrenching breakup album Boys for Pele, her electronica-fest/"miscarriage album" From the Choirgirl Hotel, the overproduced-yet-sparse backed with live "greatest hits" double-disc To Venus and Back, and the collection of reinterpreted covers known as Strange Little Girls, Tori has been all over the musical map. What was left but a concept album?

But Scarlet's Walk is more than just any normal themed collection of songs. It is also Amos's response to the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks of 2001. It is a statement on the status of a country that has lost its easy self-confidence. It is a return to the basics while being a culmination of all the work that has preceded it.

And it is one damn fine collection of tunes.

Starting off slow (as she generally likes to do) with "Amber Waves," a tossed away ingenue who went "from a ballet class to a lap dance straight-to-video" and who accompanies Scarlet on this leg of her journey. We then continue with "a sorta fairytale," in my opinion one of the best songs ever written, and I don't say that lightly. Its tale of only-on-the-road love is touching and the production involved makes the music feel as if it were surrounding me while coming from inside me (very similar to the effect the music of The Microphones has on me). "a sorta fairytale" is followed immediately by the bouncy "Wednesday," another favorite but in a different way....

But I'm not going to sit here and describe every song on the album because it is not meant to be seen that way. It is definitely one of those albums that needs to be listened to as a whole and not just song-by-song. It seems to me to be the perfect road-trip album (something I am always on the lookout for). With Scarlet's Walk, Tori Amos has attempted to produce a "sonic novel" and succeed she has.

(If you want a rundown of the whole story, that can be found on A Dent in the Tori Amos Net Universe's Scarlet's Bio page; it is quite the read and works greatly toward explaining Amos' often cryptic lyrics.)

Tori Amos, Crucify [EP]

This was my introduction to Tori Amos. Like many people, I had heard she had done a cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" where you actually could understand the words. Well, I of course, had to have that and therefore also discovered that she had done other terrific covers of Led Zeppelin ("Thank You") and Rolling Stones ("Angie") songs.

It was also a good introduction to her original work as "Crucify" and "Winter" (both from Little Earthquakes) are included. This led to the purchase of Little Earthquakes and the rest--as they say--is history.

Tori Amos, From the Choirgirl Hotel

I got into Tori during the Little Earthquakes period. I bought Crucify and Under the Pink and sort of gave up because what I thought was there to begin with wasn't doing it for me anymore. She seemed to be covering the same old ground as before. Boys for Pele was simply downright depressing.

Then came Choirgirl. My wife picked this one up because she was a fan as well--more so, actually. So much so that I was getting tired of listening to all the albums I had stopped listening to because she was playing them all the time. Then she put this one on and that changed.

From the first janglings of "Spark," I knew there was something different going on here. The album continued and I thought "this is what it should have been." The music was terrific, the lyrics less oblique, and it was all enhanced by the new electronic sound Tori had adapted to her own needs.

This, by far, is my favorite Tori album. I have heard the others since (To Venus and Back and Strange Little Girls, as of this writing) and have failed to be impressed, but whenever I go back and listen to From the Choirgirl Hotel again, I continue to discover new layers in the music and effects. In particular, the steel guitar on "Playboy Mommy" makes a very emotional song especially moving.

Tori finally surprised me, and pleasantly. She still intrigues me and I'll sample each new output, but it wasn't until the release of Scarlet's Walk that I felt the same effect as this album gave and still gives me.

Tori Amos, Strange Little Girls

I picked this up for my wife (as she is the big Tori fan in the family) on release day. She seems to have enjoyed it immensely, while I longed for the stylings of Tori's original works.

Strange Little Girls has some good interpretations, granted. "'97 Bonnie and Clyde" has never been so haunting, and "Heart of Gold" is completely unrecognizable. However, I feel that if the label is going to release an album of covers, they should at least accompany it with an album of new original work. I listened to this album a few times (with the exception of the interminable "Happiness is a Warm Gun"), and haven't listened to it since.

With her Tori-written work, one is constantly finding new things to enjoy (and discovering new meanings to old words), but with this, I felt I understood everything from the get-go. I would recommend this only for completists and/or die-hard fans.

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