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Retrolowfi offers its take on American Doll Posse in this lengthy, detailed review:
This month gives us American Doll Posse, Tori Amos’s ninth album. It’s been fairly obvious that I have been less than pleased about Mrs. Amos’s output over the past few years. Scarlet’s Walk was pleasant, although somewhat dull in a few places. The Beekeeper was way more adult contemporary than I could stand. And don’t get me started on The Piano again. So when word came that American Doll Posse would be a “return to form,” I was hoping for something more in tune with Boys for Pele, but I was trying not to get my hopes up. I was eager but prepared to be disappointed.
However, I’m so grateful to not be disappointed. American Doll Posse is way better than it should be.
American Doll Posse is exactly the kind of record that Amos needed to make right now, one that recaptures both the agressive, sexual beast as well as the whistful, cooing bird she once was, while simultaneously trying not to remake her past (re: good) albums. She certainly seems to have regained the vigor she had lost, making the most energetic album she’s made in eight years. Songs sound like everything from the Boys to Pele era through The Beekeeper. In a really good way.
The album starts out with “Yo George,” a plaintive comparison of President G.W. Bush to King George III, before charging into “Big Wheel,” a song that reminds girls who grew up listening to Tori that they are still relevant, sexual creatures, a feeling many women are trying to recapture (anyone take a look at chick lit racks lately? Point made.). On comes “Teenage Hustling,” in which Tori toys with the harshness of female gossip (Honestly, boys, you have no idea how bad it can get.) and thrashes it against itself in front of some of the harshest guitars that have ever appeared on one of her albums. “Digital Ghost” loses it a bit for me, actually, as the guitars and drums make it sound more like a song that was supposed to be sung by Celine Dion or Meatloaf. WAY too melodramatic, especially considering that it just seems to be a song about someone being upset about a loved one getting lost in technology. However, the album makes up for it with beauties like “Girl Disappearing” and “Father’s Son,” both classic-sounding Tori Amos songs, and “Body and Soul” and “Code Red,” which sound like they could have been plucked from choirgirl. “Smokey Joe” is absolutely haunting, as it layers Tori’s voice (or rather Pip’s, but we’ll get to that in a minute) to show the anxiety over wanting to do harm to people and knowing one shouldn’t. Also, Tori includes little interludes sprinkled throughout ADP like she did in Boys for Pele: in “Fat Slut,” Tori commands someone to “stick it in” to get them to shut up in front of angry feedback, in “Programmable Soda,” in which sex is compared to mixing fountain drinks, and “Velvet Revolution,” in which Tori sings against a mandolin (Hurrah for varied instrumentation! It’s not the only time she does this either.) . This record is gorgeous and clever and vulgar all at once, which is everything people love about this woman.
Nevertheless, it wouldn’t be a latter-day Tori record without a concept. This time, singing along with Tori are four other characters: Pip, Clyde, Isabel, and Santa. Tori has said that these characters represent different aspects of womanhood. These characters, including Tori, take turns singing while Tori plays the piano. (Pip is the warrior woman , Santa loves beauty and sexuality, Clyde is the introspective one, and Isabel is the objective one. Go to toriamos.com to find out who sings each song.) Through these characters, Tori is able to attack subjects that people face, especially politics and female cruelty, from various perspectives. And for the most part, I think it is largely effective.
Of course, a good album doesn’t need a concept, but we know that Tori doesn’t seem to be able to make an album without one these days. Considering just how good each of these songs are, I hate to say it, but the concept just might not be necessary. I understand why Tori might want a concept, though: first, because these songs encompass such an array of different styles (Boys for Pele through to The Beekeeper is quite a leap) that something could be needed to tie it all together, and second, because Tori likes playing dress-up (C’mon, if you’re a girl, chances are you like it occasionally, too.). It’s actually kind of difficult to say whether this concept actually works, as I can simultaneously debunk and praise it. No one seemed to mind that silly songs such as “The Happy Phantom” appear on the same album as “China,” and yet Tori now feels that a concept is necessary to bring the sugary “Programmable Soda” together with the heaviness of “Smokey Joe” (Bonus track or no, it’s still part of the record). Yes, there are certainly a lot of different “Toris” on the record, and yes, she’s always called the songs “girls,” and this is simply a way to materialize this idea (or actualize the Strange Little Girls concept with songs of her own), but she’s always excelled at both the tear-jerking ballad and the skipping singalong, even the bluesier songs and the twangier ones, so needing to physically create characters isn’t necessary. It seems more likely that wanting to put on makeup and fancy dresses is more fitting. However, it is pretty neat to see the “girls” who “created” these songs and wonder, for example, if any of them could have written “Tear in Your Hand”. It’s interesting to give these “girls” personalities, even to the point of making them so contemporary as to giving them each blogs. This concept is WAY better than The Beekeeper’s and eons more intensive and interactive than Scarlet’s Walk’s.
My only real issue with this album is that it just seems too long. Twenty-three songs on an album and not having it be a double album doesn’t make a ton of sense to me (and apparently you can get additional songs by buying the album in different ways), but at the same time, it’s hard for me to gripe considering how good these songs are on an individual level. Aside from that, I’m just excited that she has some more life back in her.