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By Matt Fink
Famously idiosyncratic songwriter continues mid-career slump with album of holiday songs
Given that holiday-themed releases are just a step above albums of pop standards on the continuum slumping toward creative irrelevancy, Midwinter Graces presents a career crossroads for Tori Amos. Having long wandered between pagan and Christian themes, here Amos attempts to combine the familiar spirit of well-known Christmas carols with Winter Solstice mysticism but eventually sinks into the same sentimentality and overproduction that often mars her more conventional projects. Struggling to stick to the script, her rendition of “Star of Wonder” starts off shrouded in a haze of pattering hand drums and darkly snaking strings but eventually gets lost in an overstated chorus. Similarly, the Amos-penned “A Silent Night with You” is one long seasonal cliché, just as the big-band gloss of “Pink and Glitter” becomes too cute for its own good. Aside from an imaginative melodic makeover for “What Child, Nowell,” Amos fails to find an entryway into these songs that justifies her willingness to bury her personality inside them, ending up with a well-meaning but ultimately inessential vanity project.
By Laura Cress
So the deal is this. Tori Amos, a woman who could be described as having slipped off the ship deck of sanity for a short spell in the sea of stupidity in her last album Abnormally Attracted to Sin, has now decided to release a “seasonal album.” This contains re-workings of traditional Christmas carols such as “Star of Wonder” as well as some Amos originals for good measure.
It was therefore with a little bit less than baited breath that I listened to the first song, What Child, Nowell, but amazingly I wasn’t forced to bang my laptop repeatedly shut over my head just to drown out the noise. The only part I found strange was the chorus where Tori sings the famous lines ‘Nowell’. because, Because this is a re-working, the rhythm has been completely changed – that second Noel is now hanging on for forever and a day, leaving the other poor Noels out in the dark.
And that seems to be the main problem with this collection. Whilst it’s nice to see somebody rework tired songs and make them interesting again, everybody has been programmed since about the beginning of every September to listen to Christmas songs being blasted out at us. Therefore they’ve become such a tradition that changing the rhythms but leaving the main lyrics as the same just seems a bit unnatural.
Nevertheless, there is something very Christmassy about the arrangement of instruments that made me wistful for the winter, so in some dimension this does work as a Christmas album. The original Tori Amos songs, such as the jazzy Pink and Glitter actually work better because of their detachment from traditional Christmas songs, although her insistence that we must ’shower the world’ perhaps show some OCD tendencies that need attending to.
All in all, unless you’re a hardcore Tori Amos fan, you’ll probably just use this as background music whilst the family are too stuffed to talk after the Christmas dinner, but there are still some occassional beautiful melodies that deserve a second listen.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 28th, 2009 at 3:12 pm and is filed under Music, Reviews.
Nov 13, 2009
I’m not sure I’d want Tori Amos as a girlfriend. I expect she’ll get over that fact, given time, but the reason I’ve come to such a conclusion is that you’d never know what mood she was likely to be in from one day to the next. No sooner would you have adapted to her ‘Silent All These Years’ persona than she’d have suddenly turned into the ‘Cornflake Girl’, then before you knew where you were with that she’ll have gone all ‘Van Helden’ on you and turned into a ‘Professional Widow’.
Whilst it’s good for any artist to be able to reinvent themselves from time to time, you can’t help feeling that Amos’s chameleon-like transitions over the years have made it challenging for all but the staunchest of fans to stick with her for any length of time. With that in mind, it’s with a mixture of trepidation and curiosity that a new Tori Amos long player is to be explored.
‘Midwinter Graces’ sees Amos tackling the thorny genre of Christmas songs, reimagining some well-known standards as well as creating some of her own seasonal offerings. Taken at face value, the album is a fairly enjoyable collection, mildly cloying in parts but otherwise palatable enough, and were this by any other artist than Tori Amos it would be easy to write off as little more than a vaguely artistic cash-in. It is by Tori Amos though, and given the thematic intent of a lot of her previous material, taking this album at face value feels strangely uncomfortable.
If there is more to this collection of seemingly innocuous songs than meets the ear, deciphering what that might be is something that devoted fans will no doubt revel in but which is likely to leave the casual listener bemused. If there isn’t and this is simply a collection of seasonal songs put together for no other reason than it’s the time of year for it, then this kind of album coming from an artist such as Tori Amos just doesn’t quite seem to fit.
By Philip Goodfellow
12-11-2009 10:30 | Mike Gray
TMF Rating: 7 out of 10
While at first glance, Tori Amos might seem like an unlikely candidate to release a Christmas record, and indeed the announcement was pretty out of the blue, she’s got previous. When her first album was released, she released a relatively straightforward cover of ‘Little Drummer Boy’, while a decade ago, she released a truly haunting version of ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’. As a b-Side. In April.
It is an unwritten law of reviewing a Tori Amos record that the word kooky must be used. So here it is. If there’s one thing that Midwinter Graces isn’t, it’s kooky. This is perhaps the most straightforward album, both musically and lyrically that she has ever produced. Anyone concerned that she might have made a self-consciously unusual festive album will be disappointed.
In fact, it’s curiously traditional in almost every way. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given her obvious interest in such themes and her upbringing, the album embraces the religious elements of Christmas, frequently interpreting and referencing favourite carols. Here a snippet of ‘We Three Kings’, there a bit of ‘The Holly & The Ivy’. It owes more to Bing Crosby, than, say, Slade. There’s all-new original material here, too, though. The sweet love song of ‘A Silent Night With You’, and the jazzy, stylish ‘Pink and Glitter’ are particularly strong.
It’s refreshing, too, to have a Tori Amos album free of padding. Her recent discs have had more than a hint of filler – these 12 songs don’t outstay their welcome in the same way. While it’s unlikely to win her any new converts, non-fans exposed to the record won’t find it as dense or impenetrable as some of her studio work.
By Lizza Connor Bowen on November 12th, 2009
Rating: 3½ out of 5
Midwinter Graces, the first seasonal offering from Tori Amos, unfolds exactly how one would imagine from one of music’s most daring female singer/songwriter: Dark. Piano-driven. Spectacularly unique. After two decades of perfecting her signature sound, Amos casts her magic across Christmas standards including “Emmanuel,” “Star of Wonder” and “Silent Night.”
The traditional elements of Midwinter Graces, such as the orchestral arrangements and the Biblical bent of the lyrics, are surely imprints left on Amos growing up in her father’s Methodist church. But leave it to Amos to spin a 14th century carol, “Lo How A Rose E’re Blooming” into something completely progressive. “Holly Rose & Ivy” opens with the lilting “Rose” melody. Then, Amos weaves her own chord progression and words in between “Rose”’s classic lines. It’s a beautiful mash up. Amos employs the formula across Midwinter Graces to make the songs she covers truly her own. Call it an interesting way to “co-write.”
“Winter’s Carol” is one of the disc’s most adventurous. The production is layered and the echoing background vocals give it a haunting feel. The swanky “Pink And Glitter,” is the sonic anomaly here, with its old world horns and uptown attitude. This sounds like Christmas on the Upper East Side. Overall though, the carols in Amos’ adept hands, sound gothic, inspired and winter-y more than merely merry like most holiday offerings.
An inspired classic for the holiday season.
by Johnny Firecloud
Nov 11, 2009
Release Date: Nov. 10
Tori Amos’ reverence for the seasonal spirit on her first holiday album, Midwinter Graces, may appear to be a hard-left departure from her typical sexually subversive ways, but on closer inspection it makes perfect sense. A classically trained pianist since childhood, Amos grew up singing in church, and her predilection for faeries and hippie-ribbon magic bode well for an album that, as she puts it, isn’t about Santa Claus or spinning dradels.
“I wanted to bring in another side to this which is that before there was Christmas day, cultures were celebrating the rebirth of light in darkness during the winter season,” Tori recently said to The Quietus. “That’s been happening for thousands of years. Midwinter has been celebrated for thousands and thousands of years, even before a religion was involved and it was about rebirth of light”.
The result of such an effort is an album for the season that you can comfortably play for the whole family without having to explain any sexual overtones to Grandma, something one might’ve expected in Tori’s previous offerings. It’s an ode to the spirit of wintertime, beautifully orchestrated and arranged, and Amos’ voice is perfectly suited to the sound. Reworked classic carols and surprisingly vibrant original holiday compositions blend for a grown-up collection that won’t soon fall by the holiday-sales-gimmick wayside.
Middle eastern rhythms add a warm new spice to “Holly, Ivy, and Rose,” not at all diminished by her daughter’s vocal-debut contributions, while rechristened classics such as “What Child, Nowell,” “Candle: Conventry Carol” and “Star Of Wonder” breathe new life – and twists – into old holiday favorites. The covers are molded into medleys and peppered with new lyrics and melodic meanderings that showcase Amos’ remarkable arrangement abilities.
Additionally, the original songs mix seamlessly with the reworked classics, lowlit by gorgeous, lush string arrangements and haunting piano work that outlines the eerie atmosphere. A familiar piano riff in “Winter’s Carol” calls to mind the previous Tori track “Ophelia,” but to no fault of its own. The new tracks are some of Tori’s most colorful and inspired in years.
As producer, her attention to detail and focus on clarity is vital to this work. Working with longtime collaborators Matt Chamberlain (drums), Jon Evans (bass), Mac Aladdin (guitar), and John Philip Shenale (string arrangements), Amos defies the bland generics of standard “holiday” albums to create something unique that isn’t fan-specific or even limited to generational tastes.
If you’re comfortable stepping off the pop-fad bandwagon and abandoning the tired status quo for a spell this holiday season, Tori’s latest may be the perfect fix to roast your chestnuts on a quiet winter’s night.
CraveOnline’s Rating: 8.5 out of 10
by Julia Pugachevsky
Published November 10, 2009
The title is self-explanatory, but Tori Amos fans may still panic when they pick up “Midwinter Graces” and realize the shocking truth: This is a seasonal album. The first song, “What Child, Nowell,” praises baby Jesus with angelic, harmonizing vocals reminiscent of Sarah Brightman or Hayley Westenra. But although making a holiday album might suggest otherwise, Amos, the critically acclaimed, alternative-rocking redhead, has not been tamed.
Glancing at the song titles — “Star of Wonder,” “Harps of Gold,” “Winter’s Carol” — we ask ourselves: Is this really the same woman who wrote the bitingly sarcastic lyric, “God sometimes you just don’t come through/Do you need a woman to look after you?” But on the album cover, Amos looks at us with her iconic coy smile, which can only mean one thing: We have been tricked.
By the time “Star of Wonder,” the second track, comes along, we meet the Amos sound we know and love, complete with rapid violins and drums; playful, folksy guitar; and her classic breathy, seductive vocals. On “A Silent Night With You,” she reimagines the typical holiday tune, leaping into a minor key to give the song an undercurrent of passion.
Amos extrapolates from the better parts of holiday tunes by combining them with her distinctive style. “Candle: Coventry Carol,” for example, is melodically similar to any religious choir song, but Amos refreshes it by replacing the choir with her childlike voice, rolling guitar and soft drumbeat.
It won’t be your favorite Tori Amos album, but it will help rekindle the warmth of the excessively commercialized (and Barry Manilow-ified) holiday genre.
THE IDEA OF Tori Amos doing a holiday album is certainly a bizarre one, even when you take into account that her father was a Methodist minister and so she grew up with Christmas carols.
“Midwinter Graces” is not a collection of upbeat, “Joy to the World”-esque celebrations, though. Instead, Amos re-interprets traditional songs and writes a few of her own.
Original holiday tunes are rarely a good idea, but it’s those re-interpretations that are risky business. On album-opener “What Child, Nowell,” Amos blends together bits of “What Child Is This” and “The First Noel,” creating a Christmas mash-up that sounds disjointed and scattered.
On other songs, she drops traditional melodies into original songs — “Harps of Gold’s” choruses of “Gloria in excelsis deo” are particularly egregious.
The result is scattered, and some of the best moments on these songs have nothing to do with either her original bits or the covers:
“Holly, Ivy and Rose” is a dreadful mash-up of “Lo, how a Rose e’er Blooming” and “The Holly and the Ivy,” but several verses become charming duets between Amos and her daughter Natashya. Adding a child’s voice to a holiday song is usually a fast road to sentimental pap, but this particular duet is striking — despite the pieced-together song combination.
In her defense, Amos does well here what she always does well: she creates a somber mood with her perpetually-solemn tone and crackling voice. One of the highlights here is the glacially-paced snippet of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” which opens and closes her song “Emmanuel.” It’s a carol whose bleak atmosphere is magnified by Amos’s style, and if a holiday album were a truly necessary form of her artistic expression, this is how she could have done it in a more palatable form.
Ultimately, “Midwinter” falters not because the idea of Amos doing Christmas songs is weird — there are enough entrancing excerpts here that show that she can really enhance the right choice of holiday song. Instead, her choice to blend covers of traditional songs into originals leaves behind a whole slew of original lyrics that add little to the traditional tunes she’s paired them with.
Far be it for this critic to dictate how Amos should celebrate her holidays, but her mash-up approach has detracted from the holiday carols that she claims to be celebrating, leaving them seeming a bit disposable.
Probably not exactly what she had in mind.
Written by Express contributor Catherine Lewis
Tori Amos used to be a “Cornflake Girl” (to quote a hit title), and sometimes she’s been just a flake — From the Choirgirl Hotel anyone? But as an interpreter of others’ songs she’s been damn near peerless. Her take on Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”? Inspired. Covering Eminem on Strange Little Girls? Ballsy. And now the woman who suckled a piglet at her breast in the booklet for Boys for Pele brings us a juicy Christmas morsel called Midwinter Graces. This being Amos, a straight-up holiday album won’t do. She mixes obscure traditional tunes like the Victorian “Candle: Coventry Carol” with seasonally-inspired originals such as “A Silent Night with You.” It’s a gift from a “Snow Angel,” to quote an Amos original, that’ll sound just as delightful long after the holidays have passed.
November 9, 2009, 8:30 PM ET
By Christopher John Farley
Tomorrow is new music day, and two of the most intriguing releases are Tori Amos’s “Midwinter Graces” and Bon Jovi’s “The Circle.”
Amos’s last record was called “Abnormally Attracted to Sin.” Her new release is a seasonal album filled with holiday carols (or fragments of them, anyway). It’s like going from summer to winter without a stop at fall.
The singer-songwriter-pianist joins a host of high-profile musicians who have released holiday-themed albums recently, including Bob Dylan (”Christmas in the Heart”) and Sting (”If On A Winter’s Night…”). These albums, in part because of the strong personalities of the artists behind them, aren’t traditional Christmas albums. Sting’s CD is a “winter-themed” album, and focuses more on winter suffering than on holiday celebrations.
Dylan’s is a non-traditional Christmas album because, well, it’s Bob Dylan doing a Christmas album.
Amos puts her own spin on the season with “Midwinter Graces.” It’s a kind of mash-up album–Amos combines some traditional carols to create new songs (for example, “What Child is This” + “The First Noel” = “What Child, Nowell.”) She also alters the melodies and the lyrics to other familiar songs (such as “We Three Kings” in the song “Star of Wonder”) and offers up her own holiday originals, such as “Pink and Glitter” and “Our New Year.”
Amos is the daughter of a Methodist minister and grew up singing carols in her father’s church. Her music, on past albums, has explored issues of sexuality and spirituality. “Drive another nail in/ Just what God needs/One more victim,” go the lyrics to one of her earlier songs, “Crucify.” And on another previously released song she sings “God sometimes you just don’t come through/Do you need a woman to look after you.”
Her new holiday album might annoy some traditionalists, but the songs are performed with a sense of warmth and respect, even as the singer-songwriter freely adapts the material to her own musical sensibilities. This is Christmas without irony or a wink. On “Pink and Glitter,” she’s backed by a big band, giving the tune a retro feel; on other tracks she’s supported by a rock band and an orchestra, granting the arrangements some solidity and bite.
Also out tomorrow is “The Circle,” the new album from Bon Jovi (it can be purchased with a documentary about the band, “When We Were Beautiful”). The album delivers the New Jersey band’s typical brand of muscular, populist rock with hard-working songs like “Superman Tonight” and ”Bullet.” In case you have any doubts about the superstar rockers’ blue-collar street cred, there’s a song called “Work for the Working Man” with the refrain “Who’s going to work for the working man?”
Presumably, Bon Jovi will. Lighters up!
The music video for one of the tracks from the album, “We Weren’t Born to Follow,” features images of various leaders and global heroes, like the protester who stood in front of the line of tanks in China during the Tiananmen Square uprising of 1989, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, astronauts–and Lance Armstrong, that beloved global leader (and sometime cyclist) who likely just edged out Hideki Matsui to make Bon Jovi’s list.
Bon Jovi performed the song “We Weren’t Born to Follow” in Berlin as part of the celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.