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Shannon tipped us off to this detailed review of American Doll Posse that first ran in the (Madison, Wis.) Badger Herald and then was released on U-Wire, the newswire service for university newspapers.
MADISON, Wis. — Tori Amos is no stranger to the unconventional, and especially not the controversial.
Don’t believe me? Just take a look at her nearly 30-year history in the music industry. At the age of 11, Amos had already begun fighting against the status quo. After studying piano for six years at the prestigious Peabody Conservatory of Music, Amos lost her full scholarship, supposedly due to her love of rock and her contempt for sheet music. It would be another 20 years before Amos would forcefully make her way onto the music scene.
In 1990, Amos launched her career with a collection of heart-wrenchingly emotional tracks called “Little Earthquakes.” From that point on, it seems Amos has also explored nearly every thematic concept in her music, from her traumatic experience with rape, to a drug-induced meeting for “tea with the devil,” to the ancient art of beekeeping. These unusual concepts — in combination with her piano, harpsichord, bagpipes or any odd instrument the singer can get her hands on — have made Amos one of the most delightfully quirky, entertaining singers of the past two decades.
Just when it seemed she had exhausted all her creative options, Amos returns after a three-year hiatus with another collection of stories, “American Doll Posse,” her latest album from Sony Records. On the surface, a collection of stories seems less than innovative, but Amos, true to her nature, brings in another element — five, actually — to propel the album’s creativity far beyond anything the fiery red-haired songstress has ever done before. Amos, instead of singing each track from her point of view, has invented five alter egos — Isabel, Pip, Clyde, Santa and, of course, Tori — to lend their voices to the album. This offbeat cast of characters makes “American Doll Posse” one of the most inventive, thought-provoking releases of the year.
Although it features the personal accounts from various perspectives, ADP plays like five distinct, yet entirely cohesive, glimpses into the characters’ lives. “Yo George,” the album’s opening track, marks the introduction of Amos’ alter-egos with the politically minded Isabel asking “Where have we gone wrong, America? ... Is this just the madness of King George?” “Isabel’s” mournful vocals and hauntingly dissonant piano chords serve as the perfect transition to the off-kilter, clanging piano of the album’s second track, real-life Tori’s “Big Wheel.” This rousing, saloon-stomping tune delivers the album’s most entertaining lyric as Tori, a 44-year-old mother of one, chants “I-I-I-I am a M-I-L-F/ Don’t you forget,” over punctuations of piano and electrified, swooping guitar.
Despite the emotional intensity of Clyde’s piano-heavy “Bouncing Off Clouds” and the soaring violin accompaniment on “Girl Disappearing,” Amos delivers the best tracks when backed primarily by a line of screeching guitars. Santa incorporates these screaming riffs into the choruses of the hypersexual “You Can Bring Your Dog.” Oozing sexuality with every twangy vocal, Santa sings, “I’m not making any promises/ I’m not living to be the Mrs.,” making this Southern siren song one downright enjoyable track.
The album’s true standout, however, is Pip’s electrically charged “Teenage Hustling.” Although the track begins in Clyde’s gentle style, don’t be fooled — Pip soon delivers a powerful, swaggering blast of electrified guitars and clashing percussion to liven up the song. The raucous interplay of instruments going open-throttle alongside Pip’s vocal repetition of lines like “you better know” quickly becomes reminiscent of Queen, vibrating and squealing along with the confident, youthful singer on the bridge.
Despite the power of ADP’s initial tracks, however, the strength of Amos and her alter-egos’ songs begins to dwindle near the middle of this 23-track album with the mediocre ballad “Roosterspur Bridge.” The dragging percussion and stale vocals lack the intensity and emotional connection that tracks like the lo-fi “Beauty of Speed” or the cheerful “Almost Rosey” possess. With her cascading piano work, however, Amos gently and beautifully breaks out of the slump as Isabel ushers in the end of the album with the haunting track “Dragon.”
It seems unlikely that any other artist but Tori Amos would create five personas to “accompany” them on an album. From the outset of her career, however, this eccentric songstress has never been “any other artist.” It is with this innovation that Tori Amos has made “American Doll Posse” not only the most inventive product of a career based on creativity, but one of the most ingenious albums of the year.