Fooled by the delicate melodies of her newest album, American Doll Posse, on first pass I missed the quirky dissidence lurking behind Tori Amos' trademark exquisite piano playing. I realized, during my second listen, that there is definitely a darkness to the beauty this time around, in a style Amos has taken more than a decade to hone.
Epic Records released American Doll Posse, Amos's ninth studio effort, earlier this month. At 20 songs, it's like a double album. Some clock in at more than five minutes while others are less than a minute. It's a thematic, concept album of sorts; one that revolves around five female characters (Santa, Clyde, Isabelle, Tori and Pip) that Amos, 43, combines to form a "complete" woman that questions sexuality, power, politics, manipulation and religion.
By playing those characters (in the studio, and onstage, wearing custom-made designer outfits), Amos allows herself to veer off into all sorts of musical directions that sway in and out of rock, folk, alt-rock and pop genres. Strong piano melodies, rock drumming, string passages and soft, flittering vocals are present throughout.
American Doll Posse inches through slow, sparse, ballad-like passages and then jumps into moments of honky-tonk and blues. She might as well be singing in a hip, smoky saloon down the street from the Moulin Rouge. On songs like "Teenage Hustling," it's like Pat Benatar was in the studio giving tips on how to rock out. The regal aura synonymous with Kate Bush prevails on songs like "Bouncing off Clouds" and "Digital Ghost." Without Joni Mitchell's "Help Me," Rolling Stone wrote recently, Amos simply would not be what she is today.
She told the press recently that she opened herself up to bands like The Clash and The Doors while producing this album. Amos, maybe influenced by the social commentary of the former or the bravado of the latter, seems to be having a rude political awakening on tracks like "Yo George," "Devils and Gods," and "Mr. Bad Man," although there's not a lot of sting behind the punch.
Benign lyrics like "I salute to you Commander and I sneeze 'cause I have now an allergy to your policies it seems" and "Where have we gone wrong America? Mr. Lincoln we can't seem to find you anywhere
is this just the madness of King George" are hokey, but critical and angsty in a palatable kind of way. She even appropriates the meaning of the juvenile acronym "MILF" (mother I'd like to f**k) in one song by singing "I am a MILF don't you forget."
To have survived this long in an incredibly fickle music industry, Amos deserves props to Amos for hanging in there, and doing it in a style love it or leave it that she can call her own. Amos, who wrote and produced the album in Cornwall, England, launches her world concert tour May 28 in Rome.