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Zoom In Online has a long review of American Doll Posse up. Thanks, Amanda!
May 10, 2007
First Listen: Tori Amos – American Doll Posse Review
Something happened last night… something that doesn’t happen very often. So infrequently, in fact, does this thing happen, that it really jumped out and bonked me on the skull as it was happening (instead of the more typical “morning after” moment of oh! that can happen with things like this…) and I was able to be INSIDE the moment of it happening. And the experience has floored me. When was the last time this happened to you?
I heard a brand new album by an artist I was already a huge fan of, who I’ve seen live probably 6 times now… and this new record absolutely blew me away, each and every track stronger than the one before, and just going “oh my god, how can this get any better?” and then it would. Have you guys experienced this?
As a lifelong music fan, musician, music geek, amateur music critic, and all-around gravitater-toward of things even remotely smacking of music and creativity (i.e. everything that doesn’t suck and involves people being passionate about expressing things musically), I have dropped the needle (till 1986 when I traded in needle dropping for play-button-pressing) on many a new record, sometimes by artists I’ve not yet heard, and more often by artists who have impressed me in the past and this is their new release… and what happens most times, since I want to love new music so badly (and so often don’t), is I spend the whole time listening trying to convince myself of why I like it. I subconsciously try to gloss over the things that don’t stand out as original, or even good, because it’s too disappointing to feel like an artist you love isn’t taking you to new places; showing you new sides of themselves – and in turn, sides of your OWN self. I even sometimes hear myself saying “you might not be in the mood right now” or “well, this might be one of those that has to grow on you.” That’s BS of course. Some records just don’t suit us, or are simply not really very good.
There are, indeed, “those records” that have the stuff
I got news, friends… the very best albums of our lives, the ones that truly stick, and over the years still get put back into rotation again and again… these records knocked our socks off in one way or another the first time we heard them. Yes it’s true. It’s not a myth. There are records out there—and for everyone these are different of course—that have the capability to change our lives when we hear them for the first time. I will say that there have been some favorite albums of mine that have taken 5 or more listens to really get under my skin, but those records, even though I love them, are not the ones that I’m talking about.
If fact, as a result of this post, I have been working on a retrospective of those mind-blower experiences in my life, and will link to it here (as well as post in the blog normally). First-album-listens that I just knew were something incredibly special right from the beginning. The ones that changed my life somehow for the better.
So, What Album Did You Hear Last Night, Already!?
The artist is Tori Amos, and the record is “American Doll Posse.” It was released May 1, and I hadn’t gotten around to picking it up because I haven’t always been in love with everything she’s done over the years… I loved Earthquakes and Under the Pink—played each of them hundreds of times, and then Boys for Pele felt like a kick in the head (it kinda was), and I left Tori to do her thing for some years. A year or two after Choirgirl Hotel came out I bought a copy, and was really impressed by over half of the tracks on there. Spark, Black Dove (January) are standouts. And then again, I sort of lost her during Venus, and the zillions of B-Sides that started being even easier to find, and I didn’t bother with the Covers release… Then came Scarlet’s Walk. Fantastic record. Loved it. Thought it was the best thing she had released in a decade. Saw the tour, bought the “Sunny Florida DVD.” I heard the first half of Beekeeper since then, and I liked what I heard, but then I didn’t get around to buying my own copy. And then suddenly, out of nowhere, comes American Doll Posse, yet another new Tori record. The girl is so damn prolific, I swear.
The cover of it kind of turned me off, I thought “here we go again, Tori’s off on some kick…” Well, I’m here to tell you… YES SHE IS! What’s this new kick she’s off on, you ask? And I will tell you. This is the most kick-ass rock album I’ve heard in a very long time. It’s “the Tori band,” as it were. She’s playing all kinds of piano and keys; and has Matt Chamberlain on drums, who is one of the best rock drummers on the planet; the amazing Jon Evans on bass – both guys have been on Tori’s albums and tours for years, and “Mac Aladdin” is listed as guitars and there are a bunch of other of stringed instruments as well – he’s been in the liner notes, I believe, since Scarlet’s, but there seems to be some consensus online that “he” is either a pseudonym for her husband, Mark Hawley, who is a guitar player and co-produced the record with Tori, or a programming synth. Some of the “guitars” on this album are surely her piano through a Marshall stack.
This tight band of hers (of course including Tori herself), is fully “inside” the arrangements, like never before, really laying down something amazing and creative on each and every track. The things that these players have all decided to PLAY on each song, even that is an amazement to me – songwriting and performances aside. The creative decisions all feel like they are “that one magic track among hundreds” where everything came together… but then the next song feels the same way, and then the next. I was actually exclaiming “wow” and “unbelievable” throughout the whole hour and a half.
I’ve only heard the album once at this point, and to be honest, I really could hardly sleep last night I was so affected by the experience. I hope I like it as much when I hear it later today. There are some 23 songs on the release, a true “double studio album,” as it were, in old school vinyl-speak. 5 of the tracks are under 2 minutes, but the run time of the album is still 1:18:42 – and for the first time that someone has released an album that is this freakin long… I think every minute of it deserves to be there. There is no filler. Tori is always deftly creating mood, striking a chord, making us think or feel something very specific—or something specifically ambiguous.
“American Doll Posse” appears to be made up of song-expressions that come from the voices of 5 of Tori’s creative muses—or 5 of her multiple personalities—or 5 of her favorite wigs (you decide…)—Isabel, Clyde, Pip, Santa and Tori. Each song title has one of those 5 names in parentheses right after the name of the song. As with the album opener which is titled “Yo George (Isabel),” a piano and vocal only Tori-as-you-knew-her lead off track. I just love the lyrics to this one (and wait’ll you hear her sing it). They lyrics, on the whole, album-wide, are incredibly rich, symbolic, direct, and so very Tori. Cryptic meets eloquent, raw meets friendly, open yet still guarding some wonderful terrible secret.
“I salute to you Commander, and I sneeze,
cause I have now an allergy, to your policies it seems
Where have we gone wrong America?
Mr. Lincoln, we can’t seem to find you anywhere
out of the millions
From the desserts to the mountains1 over prairies to the shores…
Is this just the madness of King George? Yo, George!
Is this just the madness of King George? Yo, George!
Well, you have the whole nation on all fours”
I can’t wait to see her on this tour. I can’t wait to hear the album again. And I can’t wait to see what kind of reaction there is to this release in both Tori’s die-hard fan circles and the general crowd of rock fans out there always on the look out for a great album with rockin groves, great playing, incredible singing, imagery- and idea-laden lyrics and some utterly inspired songwriting.
Some of the iTunes reviews indicate that some people think there is just too much going on, but the funny part is, each person’s review that I just read on iTunes that includes a statement like “I am the biggest Tori fan ever, but sorry this album has 5-10 great songs and a lot of filler” or something of the kind each person listed some of their favorite tracks, and for each and every reviewer, the “short list” contains different songs. This is a really good sign if you ask me.
Check it out… and I must say, it really benefits from being turned up nice and loud. And remember, it’s almost an hour and a half long, so don’t throw it on and then go in the other room to start “doing stuff” – give it a listen. Actually, a nice long car ride is probably one of the best ways to really soak this new one in. Oh and for any fans out there, there is a special edition (around $20) release of this with a 36 page book, behind the scenes DVD and 5 postcard prints… I assume one for each version of Tori whose voice is given several moments each to shine on this recording. She always used to say she idolized Robert Plant from Led Zep growing up, and I am quite surprised that one of her“doll-selves” is not called “Robert”, because there are more than a few moments on this record where she fully inhabits the spirit and energy of a full-on heavy rock star lead vocalist.
I’d love to know what anyone thinks about it after hearing it. The ADP tour just became my most anticipated live show of of the year.
Addendum: Upon a second listen to this album, last night while cooking and eating dinner (on full blast, mind you) I became certain that American Doll Posse has some serious staying power. It was even better the second time. And I kept saying “oh my god, THIS track” as different ones started up. A really good sign in my book.
— Todd Howard
1 [Undented footnote: “From the DESSERTS to the mountains…”? Like, chocolate cake or somethin’?]