There are few popular artists in music today as fascinating as Tori Amos. Her musical collection as vast as any intensive literature course with her own source of inspiration just as deep. And in such a course, where I would first inspect the syllabus, it was the track listing of Unrepentant Geraldines that I first placed my attention.
It seems disrespectful to an artist of Tori’s calibre to diminish a not-yet-heard record to its length and number of tracks, but following a decade of ambitiously overwound releases, it had become a necessity for me.
My familiarization with Tori Amos came during these years, with a string of albums released under Epic Records, starting with Scarlet’s Walk. I’m well aware that most regard Tori’s best work to be her earlier albums and judging from select songs I know from them, I’m inclined to agree.
And maybe that’s why I’ve never been able to say I ‘get’ her. I jumped on too late, at the start of her conceptual period of music and storytelling, from Scarlet’s Walk through America to American Doll Posse‘s five Greek mythical personas collectively discussing issues such as misogyny, sexuality and female empowerment.
Fascinating concepts when delivered through her lens but for those late to class, such as myself, a clear distinction is created between those who get Tori, and those like myself, who may be less confident.
Maybe that was an unmentioned goal: to weed out those not ambitious enough to delve deep into her self-indulgence and learn of the characters she created to deliver the many points that lurk in her lyrics. But unlike the course, which ends at the final exam, one can always go back to research Tori’s past records.
Unrepentant Geraldines is her 14th studio album and in comparison to her last four (non classical, non holiday) records, it’s an easier listen.
That isn’t to say it’s a breeze but Tori has eased up on the development of side characters and multiple mindsets that take place within the walls of her music. For now, we’re back to seeing things through her eyes and much of that touches on the progression of life.
The 50-year-old doesn’t ignore her age in 16 Shades Of Blue as the slightly electronic recording borders on accusational, sometimes sinister. In it she dictates the role age has constantly played on her life where she is told “get over it/if 50 is the new black/hooray this could be your lucky day.” These restrictions of age are echoed in Rose Dover where Make Believe is “imagination’s funeral killed by the teenage me.”
Age is a contrast in Promise, a duet with Tori’s 13-year-old daughter Tash who leads the song with her soulful and mature yet innocent vocals on the promise of being there. It seems lyrically simple for a song on a Tori album but there’s a connection between the two voices that places both on even ground, negating social constructs placed on age.
Despite the statements on age and her whimsical take on privacy and taxation at the hands of the NSA in Giant’s Rolling Pin, Tori still proclaims “I’m going to free myself,” in the title track. The song’s heavy religious context feels redundant in the same way Madonna‘s incorporation of Christianity in her performances has long become tiresome. It’s already assumed.
Tori joins some of her peers from the 1990s as the latest female singer/songwriter of that era to issue a new album following Sarah McLachlan, Natalie Merchant and Joan Osborne in recent weeks. What separates Tori from the rest at this point in time is that she can still meet the same expectations placed on her throughout her career. In the case of Unrepentant Geraldines, it’s her best album since at least Scarlet’s Walk.
2. Trouble’s Lament
3. Wild Way
4. Wedding Day
6. 16 Shades Of Blue
7. Maids Of Elfen-Mere
9. Giant’s Rolling Pin
11. Unrepentant Geraldines
13. Rose Dover
14. Invisible Boy