During tours, we do our best to cover setlists in real-time on Twitter. If you want to tweet a show in, just DM or @ us on the day and tell us to watch your stream that night.
Tori will be touring in 2014 to support the release of Unrepentant Geraldines. The European legs runs from May through June and the North American legs spans July and August. We do not know if additional dates elsewhere will be added.
Wears The Trousers, a UK online magazine that focuses on women in music, has reviewed, in extensive fashion, American Doll Posse. In the same column, they also deal with the second volume of The String Quartet Tribute To Tori Amos — just in case you still have an appetite for opinion after digesting their rather detailed and expansive thoughts on Tori’s new album!
Thanks to WTT and JackT for the link!
American Doll Posse ****½
Notwithstanding a certain newspaper’s recent assertion that she’s “as fashionable as carbohydrates” these days – the kind of glib pronouncement that only an esteemed Brit broadsheet can make – the release of a new Tori Amos album remains an event for many of us. Despite the underestimation of her 21st century output by the mainstream music press, Amos, to her credit, has not wavered in her commitment to producing bold, thematically ambitious records in the face of patronisation and dismissal. From the covers-album-as-conceptual-extravaganza Strange Little Girls (2001) through the state-of-the-nation travelogue masterpiece Scarlet’s Walk (2002) to the lush “sonic gardens” of The Beekeeper (2005), her recent work cries out for reappraisal. While none of these releases may have satisfied anyone still hoping for Little Earthquakes II, each testified to her willingness to experiment and bend the album form in all manner of strange and original directions.
Last year’s colossal A Piano box set was similarly underrated (not to mention under-reviewed): the collection functioned as a timely reminder of the singularity of Amos’s vision, but was sadly overlooked by all but the die-hards. Alas, it seems that her new album, American Doll Posse, has failed to fully revive her commercial fortunes either, at least on this side of the Atlantic, debuting at a lowly number 50 on the UK album chart in the week that saw new albums by Ne-Yo and Natasha Bedingfield go Top 10. It’s probably best not to linger over the cultural implications of this though, as it has subsequently emerged that the low chart placing was due to a particularly bizarre bit of regulation which barred sales of the album’s special edition from inclusion in the count. (Beck’s The Information suffered the same fate last year.)
But if mainstream success seems likely to continue to elude her now, Amos can rest assured that she has created another work of breathtaking stylistic reach, uninhibited passion and fierce intellect. A something-for-everyone record in the mould of avowed inspirations such as The White Album and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, American Doll Posse unabashedly returns post-millennial pop to the 1970s era of grand art-rock gestures, mixing it up with a healthy dose of brazen gynocentricism, and fuelled by Amos’s wholesale assimilation (Bach to the Beatles and Bowie by way of Bartók) of the history of music.
Perhaps in witty response to those who complained that The Beekeeper was far too long, Amos here produces an album that is shorter than its predecessor – by less than a minute. Boasting a mammoth 23 tracks, American Doll Posse tops both Scarlet’s Walk and The Beekeeper for sheer unadulterated epic-ness, while maintaining a rougher, brasher (some might say less subtle) tone. As all interested parties are aware by now, the album’s concept sees Amos continuing her investigation of the possibilities of role-play and character in order to conjure five distinct female personas inspired by the Greek pantheon: Isabel (Artemis), Clyde (Persephone), Santa (Aphrodite), Pip (Athena), and – in a pleasing po-mo touch – Tori (Demeter and Dionysus, no less). These characters are our narrators and guides through the Posse maze – liner notes helpfully identify who’s singing what – sometimes duetting or providing background vocals for each other, and offering their diverse takes on contemporary experience, from the overtly political to the deeply personal.
With dedicated internet blogs, their own wardrobes, and a heap of characteristically high-flown rhetoric about challenging the supremacy of the American Christer-Republican matrix through the unification of the compartmentalised feminine (phew), it’s pretty clear (if it wasn’t already) that Amos holds no fear of the accusations of posturing and pretension that she must be aware will inevitably follow. However, anyone who’s read Amos’s autobiography ‘Piece By Piece’ will know just how central the study of myth and archetype has become to her creative process and, in this sense, American Doll Posse feels like the natural outcome of her recent influences and concerns. There’s a practical side to the concept too: the problem with something-for-everyone albums – especially ones that last 79 minutes – is that they can lack cohesion. Amos’s recourse to personas allows her to sidestep this pitfall, and provides her with a fresh way to effectively channel and utilise all of the multifarious elements that make up her musical personality.
But leaving aside conceptual befuddlements for the moment (we’ll return to them later, sorry), how does American Doll Posse actually sound? Very good indeed. Fortunately, Amos’s socio-political agenda has not led her to produce the sonic equivalent of a Hélène Cixous essay. Rather, with typical unpredictability, she’s given us a record that is, for the most part, thoroughly accessible: sexy, decadent, slightly disreputable fun. For all the pomposity of her rhetoric, Amos seems fully aware that there’s a great deal of frivolous, high-camp potential to the concept she’s devised, and she appears to be having a very good time exploring it.
Moreover, even with Amos plainly leading the charge as she operates her inimitable keyboard arsenal (Rhodes, Wurlitzer, electric piano, clavichord and mellotron accompany the Bösendorfer this time), Posse is also very much a collaborative work. Across the album Matt Chamberlain’s protean drumming and Jon Evans’s lithe bass join with her to achieve the kind of sustained symbiosis which is only possible after many months of shared live performance. A couple of tracks boast a string quartet arranged with typically exquisite precision by long-time collaborator John Philip Shenale, but the album’s real surprise lies in the contributions of the enigmatic “Mac Aladdin” (recently revealed to be Mark Hawley, aka Mr. Amos), who emerges from the shadows to contribute incendiary electric guitar work throughout. The result is an album that rocks hard; Amos hasn’t got this consistently noisy on record since 1999’s To Venus & Back. That she manages to do so while continuing to engage in an intelligent and literate manner with thorny questions of gender, identity, power and politics suggests something of her achievement here.
But if Posse quickly gets raucous it actually starts out quiet, with trademark portentous piano chords ushering in Isabel’s brief opening Bush-salute, Yo George, a hushed piano-voice duet that serves as a chilling and inviting induction into the record. This is not the first time that Amos has set the leader of the free world in her sights (cf. Sweet Dreams, Indian Summer and her blistering deconstruction of Happiness Is A Warm Gun which sampled the voices of Bush Snr and Jr), and here she proves conclusively that political statement doesn’t have to be loud to be effective, a sublimely appropriate reference to a certain Alan Bennett play redeeming the piece from obviousness. Throughout, the album’s major tracks are interspersed with such short (but stylistically varied) songs, Boys For Pele-esque interludes that arrive like brief bulletins from the underworld. Listeners will decide for themselves whether these constitute a valuable addition to the album or a waste of space, but the grungy Fat Slut (a reference to Catherine Breillat’s notorious 2001 film ‘Fat Girl’?), the implicatory Devils & Gods, the deliciously disturbing Weimar cabaret Velvet Revolution, and Santa’s sly ode to adaptability, Programmable Soda, offer so many lyrical and melodic gems that it’s very hard to begrudge their appearance. And given the album’s surfeit of material maybe it’s not a bad thing to be left wanting more of something.
Such is Amos’s healthy relationship to her Muse(s) that, barring the occasional strained moment, there’s amazingly little filler on Posse. As far as the major tracks go, things begin to get really interesting as soon as Big Wheel, an unexpected piece of swaggering honky-tonk that nicely establishes the album’s gender agenda, its brilliant bridge turning on the already-infamous appropriation of an impolite appreciatory acronym. It’s followed by the thumping drums and galloping pianos of Clyde’s delectable Bouncing Off Clouds, a song that continues the sharp-eyed investigation into “the way we communicate”, which has always been a central theme of Amos’s writing. “Failure to respond worked / I talked, but did you listen?” she enquires, the challenges of human interaction – whether between lovers, enemies or the individual and a perceived Authority – remaining a primary concern throughout the album.
With screaming electric guitar and a vocal that roves from Peckham High Street to the San Fernando Valley in the space of a syllable, Pip takes over on the magnificently truculent Teenage Hustling, a song which uncovers a link between soliciting and salvation that few would dare to make. Digital Ghost is a superb piano-ballad-goes-glam hybrid that uses technology obsession as a metaphor for emotional unavailability. Lurching into an unanticipated 1960s girl-group chorus, Mr. Bad Man is a surprisingly playful take on those archetypal oppressive patriarchs, while You Can Bring Your Dog struts like a gender-inverted Led Zep classic, with Amos (via Santa) unleashing her best Robert-Plant-in-heat as she proclaims “I’m not living to be the Mrs.,” an assertion that could be the album’s mission statement.
There’s a similarly retro feel to much of the material, and Amos intelligently mines and melds her diverse influences without ever resorting to larceny. Gently revising one of her favourite songs, Eleanor Rigby, the deeply affecting Girl Disappearing questions the inevitability of a woman’s apparent annihilation, while the Fleetwood Mac-meets-REM Secret Spell is one of those exhilarating anthems of self-reliance that have always been her speciality. As she bites down hard on the “sold a dream at 23” lyric we realise that the song is documenting a series of turning points in a young girl’s life (almost certainly her own; her miserably received first band Y Kant Tori Read was signed to a six-album deal with Atlantic Records when she was 23) and the resolve she’s going to require just to survive them intact.
Arriving at the crucial mid-album mark, Body & Soul – all clumping percussion, staccato piano and dirty bass – is an electrifying “duet” between Santa and Pip, and one that brilliantly blurs the border between sexy and scary. The pensive, political Father’s Son condenses the spectres of a dozen recent ecological disasters into the immortal inquiry “can we blame nature if she’s had enough of us?”, and the elegantly turbulent Code Red bathes in an ambience that wouldn’t have seemed out of place on 1998’s from the choirgirl hotel. “Do this long enough you get a taste for it,” Amos sings, and the surrounding lyrics are ambiguous enough to suggest that she may have playing music, masturbation or living itself on her mind.
In a Clyde double bill, Beauty Of Speed juxtaposes an evening’s rapture with the more complicated realities visible in “the harsh of daylight,” while Roosterspur Bridge takes its place as this album’s Northern Lad. The luminous, offbeat Almost Rosey channels American Pie and boasts some of Amos’s cleverest, most intricate word-play. A conversation between Isabel and some shadowy gentleman (a soldier? her father? a lover?), Dark Side Of The Sun envisages the consequences of American cultural imperialism – “soon there’ll be fast food on the moon / painted in neon with ‘for sale’ signs up” – before turning the spotlight firmly on the personal and the present: “you say I’m more afraid of what / tomorrow could bring to us.” But Amos is too sharp and imaginative to leave us to wallow in despair, and what you’re likely to take away from the song is the image of endurance, the obligation to persist even in the face of hardship and oppression: “Brush back my tears and he said ‘girl / we have to soldier on / yes girl, even when we don’t feel strong.’” As usual, Biblical allusions course through many of these tracks. “Bushes” are burning on the mountain in this one; think back to Yo George and make of that particular image what you will.
The album proper arguably ends here, but Amos has a trick or two up her sleeve yet. If Posse Bonus is the album equivalent of one of those cheeky improv jams that are staples of her live show, then Pip’s Smokey Joe and Santa’s Dragon are American Doll Posse’s magnificent encores, the former a deeply disturbing contrapuntal debate about the benefits (or otherwise) of brutal female retribution, the latter a compassionate rebuttal which bravely posits love, not violence, as the answer: “now it has come to light / the Gods they have slipped up / they forgot about the power / of a woman’s love.” It’s an extension of the dispute between these two in Body & Soul – in which Santa advised Pip that “these devils of yours, they need love” – and one that attests to the breadth and complexity of Amos’s vision. There’s no sentimentality, no cosiness in her version of female understanding, and Dragon – on which it’s the woman who must slay the beast – plays out with Smokey Joe’s assertion that “the annihilating Feminine does not need civilizing” still echoing in your mind.
Lyrically, as some of the previous quotes demonstrate, Amos continues to cut with a very sharp scalpel indeed. If there’s a retro feel to much of the music, her subject matter remains resolutely current and contemporary. Avoiding the fey romanticism and preciousness which mars the work of some of her descendents, and veering ever closer to the complex poetry, her songwriting on Posse retains its thrilling mixture of brutal frankness and hermetic opacity, each track containing some indelible image, some surprising turn of phrase. “Genital panic,” “feeling radical in cotton,” “silken rubber gloves choking his vitriolic tongue,” “a gold star on a gendarme,” “blondes here don’t jump out of cakes,” “working her hell on that red carpet,” “boycotting trends / it’s my new look this season” – Amos is highly allusive but also colloquial, solidly structured yet apparently spontaneous, rarely sloppy or repetitious. Combined with the expressiveness of her vocals, the by now notorious ambiguities of her diction, and her immaculate musicianship, Amos’s impact is often overwhelming.
But the profundity of American Doll Posse ultimately lies in the aspects that may prove most problematic for some listeners: its concept and its scale. “The songs that have been coming to me lately, with their varied points of view, have been helping me to see how many different aspects of the self there are and that there is so much to work with, for each of us, at every stage,” Amos wrote in her conclusion to ‘Piece By Piece’, and this album feels like her practical demonstration of that statement. For what Posse offers the dedicated listener is a truly multi-vocal experience, a composite picture of contemporary American womanhood that is so rich that it ends up surpassing both national and gender specifics. What’s more, the entire album may be interpreted as a celebration of the benefits to be gleaned from looking at the world from multiple and often contradictory viewpoints – a particularly valuable endeavour in this polarised period. “Objectivity,” Isabel’s liner notes tell us, “can only be attained if you are open to another perception, even one that is contrary to your own.”
Accordingly, Amos’s women are not static creations; during the album they change through interaction with each other, their identities blurring and merging and complicating the labels that have been ascribed to them. In some ways, Amos could’ve taken the concept further – how about inviting one of those much-maligned “right-wing Christians” into the Posse? – but, even so, there’s liberation and subversion in the way in which the album tramples across gender stereotypes, locating the strength in Clyde’s vulnerability, the wisdom and potency in Santa’s sexuality, the doubt in Isabel’s political conviction. By the end, on Smokey Joe, there’s even the suggestion that Pip’s aggression may be turning to equivocation. Against the societal divisions that “pit woman against feminist,” male against female, the political against the personal, Amos constructs a kaleidoscope of paradox and contradiction, of competing and complimentary voices. In the process, what she offers us is nothing less than a guide to the possibility of surmounting repressive binary logic and of working creatively with the “many different aspects of the self” there are.
Between the concept, the blogs, Blaise Reutersward’s spectacular photography and – oh yes – the music itself, American Doll Posse provides sufficient material to sustain a thesis, not a review. Long but never sluggish, dense but never dry, this is the album as artefact – a wide open space for the listener to explore in. Whether it possesses the complete cohesion and control of Scarlet’s Walk is debatable, but, in this era of the short attention span, Amos has once again crafted a work that deliberately thwarts easy consumption, requiring instead a listener’s total sensory engagement, participation, and occasional forbearance. It’s a rare enough event in our culture, and one to be savoured, not scorned. (How often can a major-label musician be accused of indulging themselves with an excess of ideas these days?) To download bits and pieces of this album, to hear a few tracks and rush to snap judgement, seems a betrayal of the dedication and commitment that has gone into its composition. Immersion is the only solution here, and if you don’t have the time or inclination for that – well, new Ne-Yo and Natasha Bedingfield albums await you. But if you’re up for an experience, dive in, and marvel at Amos’s ability to produce yet another vital record that at once reflects and transcends our troubled times.