Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Datebook Events Listings MUSIC ARCHIVES NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

FAMOUS AMOS

Tori Amos, the queen of the heartbroken piano ballad, has returned. The new release Unrepentant Geraldines is her 14th studio album and her eighth to debut in the Billboard Top 10. Her particular brand of alternative, baroque pop is punctuated with forays into story songs, like album standout “Trouble’s Lament.” Tori plays at New York’s intimate, historic Beacon Theatre, a venue best suited to her often slow and intense musical style. She is performing back-to-back shows, a testament to her staying power. Deeply influenced by musical theater, her own classical training, and visual art movements like Impressionism, Amos remains enigmatic even at age 50 — still a must-see.

Tue., Aug. 12, 8 p.m.; Wed., Aug. 13, 8 p.m., 2014

Categories
Bars CULTURE ARCHIVES Datebook Museums & Galleries MUSIC ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

‘cOver the Pink: 20 Years of Tori Amos’ Under the Pink Live’

There’s been a recent flurry of Tori Amos re-appreciation thanks to this year’s excellent Unrepentant Geraldines, but surprisingly little attention given to the album celebrating its 20th anniversary, Under the Pink. The album itself is among Amos’ most sedate, but the Glasslands tribute promises curiously buzzy takes on Under the Pink tracks and a few of the singer-songwriter’s numerous B-sides. The lineup includes goth duo Azar Swan, Michael Graye, Prima Primo and Germans, organizer/performer Russ Marshalek (under his alias, a place both wonderful and strange) and bandleader Will Hanza. In keeping with previous Amos-themed events, all proceeds from the show will go to RAINN, the anti-sexual assault organization Amos has worked with since its founding.

Fri., May 30, 11:30 p.m., 2014

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES

Lana Del Rey Hides in Plain Sight

In James Wolcott’s rip-roaring 1970s memoir Lucking Out (Doubleday), the Vanity Fair columnist and former Voice music writer notes, a bit acidly, how “the horniness of men [drove] news acreage” 30 years back. (He was referring specifically to the high percentage of eager male rock critics at CBGB for a show by the Runaways, the Kim Fowley–spawned jail-bait act that launched the careers of Joan Jett and Lita Ford.) He appended “at least then” to his observation, although the present day surely has the same affliction—and this time it’s led as much by the people doing the reading as well as the writing.

Witness the furor inspired by any mention of the self-proclaimed “gangster Nancy Sinatra” Lana Del Rey, who has lit up comment sections since her first single, “Video Games,” debuted online. “Video Games” is a somber, furtively overproduced lament directed toward a lover who seems just interested enough to keep the narrator’s infatuation levels high; her voice for most of the song is low, though when she curls her notes upward while inquiring “I heard that you like the bad girls/ Honey, is that true?” she reveals a raspy higher register, one that sounds like an already-scratched slab of vinyl.

Depending on the tastes and relative attention spans of the listener, “Video Games” was either the single of the year or a bit long and soporific (and in need of a bridge; why are so many of this year’s buzz bands averse to spicing up their songs with bridges?). What was curious was that so little of the arguments seemed to be about the quality of her music, and instead focused on Del Rey’s melted-cover-girl looks (false eyelashes, extremely pouty lips, a sartorial aesthetic that brings to mind both Twin Peaks and breathless trend pieces on the miniskirt) or her “authenticity.” (The rumors that she was signed to the Universal Music Group subsidiary Interscope Records swirled from day one and turned out to be true.) The blog Hipster Runoff, a scare-quote-filled satirical look at “indie” culture that often mirrors anarchic anonymous comment sections a bit too eerily, perhaps sums up the conflicts surrounding her in its Del Rey biography, which reads in its entirety: “Lana Del Rey is a hot female indie singer.”

Last week, Del Rey released a new single, the title track from her forthcoming album Born To Die (Interscope). It, too, is lengthy and loping, with lyrics that straddle the line between love songs and wanting-to-be-loved songs. (This time out, she tells the man the song is directed at, “You like your girls insane.”) It was also accompanied by a video in which Del Rey, seemingly topless and staring into the camera, embraces a tattooed man. The clip was actually constructed from a 10-second loop of footage repeated and rewound; the overall effect resembled that of an endlessly looping animated gif. Not a lot, to be sure, but it was, of course, more than enough to get the comment sections a-rolling (“She’s like the Avril Lavigne of indie, so phony. Why are people making her relevant?” asked one commenter on the indie-leaning blog Stereogum) and the ire toward her flaring up just in time for a show at the Bowery Ballroom on Monday night. (The show took place after this issue of the Voice went to press.)

Farther uptown on Friday night, Tori Amos, the flame-haired singer who burst into the Buzz Bin 19 years ago with the piano-heavy album of confessionals Little Earthquakes (Atlantic), performed a string-quartet-aided show at the Beacon Theatre. Draped in seafoam green and straddling a bench so she could do double duty on a grand piano and a synthesizer, she cut quite the profile, tearing through her back catalog as the audience beamed adulation toward the stage.

Amos’s show was pretty spellbinding, and the strings backing her—the Apollon Musagète Quartet, from Poland—added snap and verve to her music in a way that only intensified the atmosphere. The stunning “Cruel” was accompanied by the quartet attacking their instruments in breathtakingly dissonant fashion, with Amos singing “Celebrate your top 10 in the charts of pain” while her legs were splayed and her arms raised.

After the banter-light, ovation-heavy show ended, I wondered where Lana Del Rey might be in 19 years, or even 19 months. Like Del Rey, Amos’s debut-album persona was overlaid onto the popular perception of her personality, with people analyzing lyrics like they were tea leaves. Blame the fact that both artists can be reduced to the term “singer-songwriter”—that close link between the production and performance of a song implies confession, whether the artist at work is bent over a piano or a MacBook.

And like Amos, Del Rey also had an abortive stint under a different pop persona before becoming a priority artist for her big-time record label. Amos fronted the synth-metal act Y Kant Tori Read during the ’80s, while Del Rey gigged around New York (and put out a couple of recordings) under her given name, Lizzy Grant, before her makeover. During Del Rey’s earliest days under the blogosphere’s microscope, her past was scrutinized, with new details emerging daily.

But where Earthquakes, with its simple lead single “Silent All These Years” and cover image of the overall-clad Amos attempting to bust out of a box, was about reclaiming an image in favor of “reality,” Del Rey’s output seems to be sublimating any and all aspects of her self that might be seen as confessional, in favor of putting forth even more artifice. Dig deeper, and it’s hard not to wonder if both directions are similar reactions against both the singers’ earliest days and the dominant trends of culture. What makes Del Rey’s evolution a bit trickier is the increasing encroachment of the always-on online world, which requires at least some level of candor if only because artifice can be an exhausting prospect when always present. What would the blogosphere have made of Tori Amos if the Y Kant-to-Little Earthquakes trajectory had happened now? Perhaps the reaction to Del Rey is a hint, and it’s enough to make one wonder if any artist wishing to shed their past can actually do so.

mjohnston@villagevoice.com

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Datebook Events Listings MUSIC ARCHIVES NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

Tori Amos

Earlier this year, the flame-haired piano player Tori Amos drew upon classical chamber music for concept album Night Of Hunters. Equally inspired by the creepy Charles Laughton film as by Stravinsky’s octets, Amos has crafted an ambitious song cycle that stands in sharp contrast to her past forays into adult contemporary and prog-inspired balladry. Lately, she’s been perfecting a stripped down solo show that showcases a kooky flair for drama. And while her fans adore anything Amos throws their way (including a tepid Depeche Mode cover), new listeners will have to contend with Florence, without the machinations.

Fri., Dec. 2, 8 p.m.; Sat., Dec. 3, 8 p.m., 2011

Categories
Bars CULTURE ARCHIVES Datebook Events Listings MUSIC ARCHIVES NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Fall Arts: Music Picks

The Raincoats
September 16

The post-punk trailblazers (and Kurt Cobain faves) are set to reenact their influential 1979 debut in December at England’s All Tomorrow’s Parties festival. Prior to that, though, the Raincoats are doing a brief North American tour in support of a new reissue of Odyshape, the sophomore set that turns 30 this year. It’s a weirder proposition, with skeletal art-funk grooves and creepy kalimba riffs and words you can believe about dancing in one’s head. But today it sounds like no less of a launching pad: If Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards is in town, expect to see her here.

Warsaw
261 Driggs Avenue, Brooklynwarsawconcerts.com

Olivia Tremor Control
September 21

The Elephant 6 psych-pop collective is busier right now than it has been since the late ’90s—see Of Montreal’s aboveground incursion and Jeff Mangum’s return from wherever. Admirers might be most excited about the arrival of new music by Louisiana’s back-in-action Olivia Tremor Control, whose sprawling 1996 debut, Music From the Unrealized Film Script, Dusk at Cubist Castle, laid out the E6 mission: stretching catchy Beatles/Byrds/Beach Boys­–inspired melodies into something darker and more experimental. It might be the ur-chillwave text.

Le Poisson Rouge
158 Bleecker, Streetlepoissonrouge.com

Descendents
September 23

These fast-and-loud pop-punk pioneers haven’t released a new album since 2004’s Cool to Be You, thanks in part to frontman Milo Aukerman’s time-consuming biochemistry career. (He and Greg Graffin from Bad Religion, a fellow Ph.D., should totally open a SoCal boarding school once they’re done with music.) But Descendents pretty much said everything they have to say on their early-’80s classics anyway: “I’m Not a Loser,” “I Don’t Want to Grow Up,” “My Dad Sucks.” You see ’em now to laugh at how unsentimentally they channel those old feelings; they’re definitely in on the joke.

Roseland
239 West 52nd Street, roselandballroom.com

Swans
September 27-28

Michael Gira’s No Wave fear factory reopened last year with My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, a brutal (and scarily beautiful) set of chamber-noise tone poems that vindicated Gira’s pronouncements on how Swans’ reunion shouldn’t be compared to the reunions of all those other post-punk acts. The band’s accompanying live shows—typically intense, darkly theatrical, almost comically loud—further solidified the claim. A new album is reportedly in the works for 2012; if you missed Swans last time, catch them now before they move on.

Music Hall of Williamsburg
66 North 6th Street, Brooklynmusichallofwilliamsburg.com

Il Volo
October 3

Don’t confuse Il Volo with Il Divo, the pop-operatic boy band originally assembled by Simon Cowell in an attempt to bring some sex to the PBS-pledge-drive crowd. Actually, go ahead and confuse them: Like Cowell’s creation, Il Volo wring every ounce of emotion from the classical-crossover material on their self-titled debut, then find just a bit more to extract. The twist? These fresh-faced Italians are honest-to-Dio teenagers, which gives their live presentation a splash of that special YouTube-savant sauce. They collapse the gap between Bocelli and Bieber.

Beacon Theatre
2124 Broadway, Beacontheatre.com

John Oates
October 8–10

Much of the ongoing critical reappraisal of Hall & Oates has focused on the guy with the golden pipes and the hipster-beloved webcast. But John Oates is not to be discounted, folks: In April he released a nifty little roots-rock record called Mississippi Mile that made up for some truly abysmal cover art (hit up iTunes for a look) with an appealingly croaky Delta-blues take on “You Make My Dreams Come True.” Here he’ll do two nights with the John Oates Band, then sit in with Iridium’s Les Paul Trio on October 10.

Iridium
1650 Broadway, theiridium.com

CANT
October 25

CANT is Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear activating his nostalgia for a musical era he romanticizes along with plenty of his indie peers: the mid-’80s avant-soul of Arthur Russell and circa Sign o’ the Times Prince. As Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest demonstrated, Taylor is a whiz with texture and tone, so CANT’s debut, Dreams Come True, doesn’t necessarily sound like stuff by those other artists; it comes from Taylor’s own identifiable aesthetic sphere. But there’s for sure some inter-generational crosstalk happening here, something he’s making no attempt to drown out.

Bowery Ballroom
6 Delancey Streetboweryballroom.com

SBTRKT
October 31 and November 1

SBTRKT follows the xx and James Blake as England’s latest purveyor of sexy-chilly digital soul, the kind of stuff that sounds as comfortable on a pirate radio station as it does in a sleek car commercial. And perhaps in a grimy rock club: SBTRKT has been racking up plaudits lately for his unusually energetic performances, during which he complements his knob-twiddling with live drums. Given that it goes down on Halloween in New York City, SBTRKT’s Bowery Ballroom date seems especially ripe for a guest appearance like the one Drake put in at a show in Toronto in July. (Maybe All Saints’ Day in Williamsburg will inspire someone to show up as well.)

Bowery Ballroom
6 Delancey Streetboweryballroom.com

Music Hall of Williamsburg, 66 North 6th Street, Brooklynmusichallofwilliamsburg.com

Feist
November 2

Feist took her time crafting the follow-up to 2007’s The Reminder, which upgraded the Canadian indie-rock chanteuse from a part-time gig in Broken Social Scene to whatever the scene is called where you end up singing your hit single with a bunch of Muppets on Sesame Street. The new record, Metals, is finally due out October 4, and its folky, low-key beauty should save Feist’s place in the brunch-soundtrack cosmos. Skip this show if you want to (you don’t want to), but you’ll be hearing her fresh tunes for many Sunday afternoons to come.

Brooklyn Academy of Music
30 Lafayette Street. Brooklyn, bam.org

Jay-Z & Kanye West
November 5-6

There’s no surprise in the quality of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s collaborative luxury-rap LP, Watch the Throne. Which isn’t to say there’s no surprise: More than a month after the album’s release, those mock-heroic horns in “New Day” still catch me off guard. But good records are what these guys do; the Throne is a business, man. Jay and ‘Ye’s live show might end up a different beast, at least if those Page Six reports about pre-tour bickering are to be believed. Will the two rappers hold it together? Will they fall apart? Fork over $250 for a floor seat and find out.

Izod CenterEast Rutherford, NJmeadowlands.com

Taylor Swift
November 21-22

When Taylor Swift played the Garden in 2009, she stood onstage silently soaking up her fans’ adulation for a full two minutes—one of the most prodigious expressions of faux-naïf wonder in a career already overflowing with them. Two years (and millions of album sales) later, you can be sure she’ll try to top it during these shows, the final North American dates of her yearlong world tour behind 2010’s excellent Speak Now.

Madison Square Garden
2 Pennsylvania Plaza. thegarden.com

Tori Amos
December 2-3

Tori Amos sounded a little starved for inspiration on 2009’s Abnormally Attracted to Sin, so it was probably wise that for her new one, Night of Hunters, the piano songstress lifted themes from some dependable old hitmakers: Frédéric Chopin and Erik Satie. (It’s out September 20 on Deutsche Grammophon, which last year released Sting’s surprisingly good Symphonicities.) As her superdevoted fans know, Amos rarely allows an opportunity for high drama to pass by unexploited. But onstage she can also give in to an appealing vulgar streak. Don’t anticipate an overdose of decorum here.

Beacon Theatre
2124 Broadway, beacontheatre.com

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES TV ARCHIVES VOICE CHOICES ARCHIVES Where To

Tori Amos

Tori Amos made her career out of piano ballads that address the things Polite Society avoids in conversation: Religion, sex, women’s rights, equality. It’s what separated her from the Edie Brickells and Natalie Merchants who dominated adult-alternative radio and VH1 in 1992, when she released her debut album. She found a formula early and hasn’t drifted from it since—for better (seven out of her 10 albums have debuted in the Billboard Top 10) or worse (her last few albums sound indistinguishable except to the most devout fan). Regardless, her plinky playing will suit Radio City’s plush seats perfectly. With eskimO.

Thu., Aug. 13, 8 p.m., 2009

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES

On Britney Spears’s Sadly Generic Circus

If only we could just talk about “Womanizer.” Britney Spears started jacking European electroclash somewhere around 2003’s “Toxic,” but she’s never made a truer distillation of synthy folktronica than this four-minute slice of pure guilty pleasure: From the initial pitch-modulation alarm to the stuttering Rihanna-worthy hook to the futuristically cold and percussive piston effects that surround her, “Womanizer” is a 2046 strip-club classic come calling a few decades early. Until now, we’d barely heard anything from Brit to justify the endless, endless voyeurism of her 27-year-old life and times, though all eras inevitably get the pop stars they deserve.

Great single. But there had to be an album. (The digitized record industry hasn’t relearned that particular singles-only 1950s lesson yet.) Circus is as boy-toy bland and Rorschach generic as any other Britney album since her teenybopper . . . Baby One More Time beginning nine years ago. Nobody at this late date thinks we’re dealing with Tori Amos here. Britney bares zero about her mental-institution misadventures, or the legal battle over her toddlers, or the K-Fed divorce, or even her (I’m sure) considerable embarrassment at getting caught pantyless over and over. Instead, this one goes mostly to prove that Brand Britney is back on track—she shaved her head, but the hair’s grown back, so to speak.

Until she somehow manages her very own Ray of Light, it’s all we have. Last year, Madonna told Z100 that she does her Pilates and dance aerobics to Blackout, the 2007 Brit record that has yet to similarly engage even one million gym rats. Circus is just as useful on a NordicTrack stepper; that’s uncontestable. “Shattered Glass,” “Radar,” “Mmm Papi”—they’re all as amphetamine-energetic as C + C Music Factory by way of Goldfrapp. But “If U Seek Amy” (bypass the mental exercise: It’s “F-U-C-K me”) is catchy, but clever in title alone. “Lace and Leather” shocks just for flaunting a live instrument: thrice-removed Rick James–variety bass. Brit offhandedly crowns herself the Queen of Pop on the expected anti-paparazzi number “Kill the Lights,” and “Blur” could be read as revealing (“Everything is still a blur/Can’t remember what I did last night”), but her Highness never gets much deeper than “Oh, my backless dress is excess.” Surprise.

Circus is no better or worse than Janet Jackson’s dominatrix-lite Discipline from earlier this year, but she doesn’t even have a record deal at the moment, apparently forever penalized for her Nipplegate fiasco. Calling out white privilege is prohibited in the age of President Obama, but can you imagine Beyoncé flashing her privates, landing in the nuthouse, etc., and returning to the open arms of MTV an album later?

Britney Spears plays the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale March 11 and the Prudential Center in Newark March 13

Categories
Bars Datebook FOOD ARCHIVES Listings Living NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Fine Whine

Tori Amos once recalled that fellow musician Al Stewart (the man behind the ’70s hit “Year of the Cat”) once gave her a valuable piece of advice: “Burgundy’s for sex, Bordeaux’s for intellect.” A fairly handy (if slightly sleazy) way of choosing your tipple. Me, I can never remember which wines I like, and usually end up arriving at friends’ apartments bearing bottles with names like Werewolf. But a recent trip to Vin Rouge (629 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn), a new South Slope wine bar, helped to allay some of the intimidation involved in choosing the right quaff. “Do you like it?” seems to be the guiding principle.

Opened a few months ago by a partner in the Has Bean Coffee spot across the street, Vin Rouge lies on a rather forlorn stretch of Fifth Avenue where it crosses Prospect. The place felt familiar at first—the handsome, dark-wood bar, the exposed-brick walls, and the strains of Sinatra on the stereo added up to what a New Orleans native called “French Quarter authentic.” At one table, a couple of jazz musicians talked shop, even throwing the word cat around in the hep sense. It was nearly too much when the Chairman of the Board began a loungey version of “Mrs. Robinson,” so the bartender laughed and switched it off in favor of the original, which led into a mix of the Beatles, Bollywood, and a certain red-haired piano-pounder.

The menu’s casual and silly descriptions of the 25 wines available by the glass—from “This 100-percent Pinot Noir rocks” to a Sicilian option declared “Superba!”—would’ve been much more charming had the staff been more helpful; they seemed unable to provide much guidance beyond a sort of general enthusiasm. Unfortunately, there were far too many misfires to justify prices in the $8-to-$12 range. The Petite Syrah ($10 a glass) and a bottle of Petite Verdad ($39) stood out, while other options were wan and uninteresting by comparison. Bottled beers like Duvel, Anchor Steam, and Smutty Nose ($5–$7) are also on hand, but seem kind of beside the point.

The menu includes a few bites for nibbling on. The meat-and-cheese platter ($10) was decent enough, and a plate of Ritz crackers with cheddar and a garlicky grape jelly ($5) was satisfying, like the afternoon snack your mom used to make. In the end, though, nothing at Vin Rouge stood out enough to make it worth a return trip. The remote location is incongruous with the prices; the place feels confused, as if unsure who exactly it’s trying to entice. Both the sexy and the intellectual will find it wanting.


OTHER BROOKLYN SPOTS FOR BUDDING WINOS

Black Mountain Wine House

The proprietors wisely chose a place off Carroll Gardens’ heavily trafficked main drag for this newish spot, going instead for something quieter. Whitewashed walls are lined with shelves bearing wine bottles, and the room is filled with tables and chairs of the intentionally mismatched variety. Branch out from a boring old Merlot with a Greek white or Moroccan red (both $6.50) and grab a bite from the short but smartly conceived menu of salads, cheeses, sandwiches, and the like ($4–$10).
415 Union Street, 718-395-2614


D.O.C. Wine Bar

Offering a quality array of moderately priced Italian wines, Williamsburg’s D.O.C. relaxes guests with its laid-back, intimate atmosphere. The bar’s pastoral décor, including a wooden picnic table, fits well with the Sardinian fare (traditionally eaten by shepherds) of flatbread, cheeses, and porks. A smart place for a third date.
83 North 7th Street, 718-963-1925Stonehome Wine Bar

This Fort Greene spot offers 140 varieties, but plan on ordering a bottle—only 30 of those selections can be bought by the glass. Nibble on meats and cheeses while mellow music wafts in the background. 87 Lafayette Avenue, 718-624 9443

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES

A Joyful Noise

Whether or not Kieran Hebden—the lanky, curly-haired English lad who records as Four Tet—played guitar in his old, on indefinite hiatus, indie-rock band, Fridge, is irrelevant. Ever since he hopped behind the laptop for his solo debut, 1999’s Dialogue, he’s had a drummer’s mind-set. And a jazzbo’s record collection. With 2003’s Rounds, he broke out with a cyclical album that started with a dog’s heartbeat and ended with squeaks from a joyfully chewed puppy toy. Within were trickling crystalline metallophones, descending harp plucks, Fahey-esque fingerpicking, and (nearly Tori Amos’s) pedally piano, all twirling gently. It was folky idyllictronica, perfect for sunny Saturday shopping ambience and downtempo dining in Soho, even if he stuck Blue Note New Thing-ies in the beats and horn wails of the centerpiece, “Unspoken.” Remixes excised any trace of folk: Both Super Furry Animals and Boom Bip got turned into boppity Five Spot gigs, and Pedro’s “Fear and Resilience” sprawled like a downtown loft jam for 24 minutes.

Roiling floor toms and hissing cymbals introduce Everything Ecstatic, Four Tet’s fourth, as he goes Rashied Ali on our asses for six seconds, flashing practice-tape fills before fixing them in the mix. Furious upright sawing and drilled snares give “A Joy” not just a tumultuous low end but a heightened celerity, which quickly builds till the logjammed signals burn to noise and synapses melt from information overload. Throughout, Hebden clutters up the sampled clatter, then pushes till it breezily swings in the stereo field. Hear how “Smile Around the Face” spins a drum machine dizzy, chirping like Minnie Riperton through a blown Leslie speaker on a careening carousel, pirouetting to the point of exhaustion. Or how saxes exalt with fiery tongues for “Sun Drums and Soil,” levitating the loam through circular breathing. Most ho-hum is “And Then Patterns,” but it at least lopes like some head-nod joints from Diamond D or RZA (who were pretty jazzy anyway).

But it’s not just jazz’s rapture at play. “High Fives” taps tubular bells till they tingle like a feel-good hit from Madchester and “Sleep, Eat Food, Have Visions” gleefully piles monosynths and 303s till they spire and spin out of control, too blotto to hold at the center. Gongs get thrown from the merry-go-round, wind chimes gamelan along, and Hebden finally draws a breath on “You Were There With Me.” Plangent clangors accrue in woozy overtones, wherein he flashes a final beam of light.

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Datebook Events Listings MUSIC ARCHIVES

An Open Letter From a Goddess, on Giving the Spirit World What It Wants

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.