KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

2014 columns, Music

Loving (and hating) Tori Amos

by Chad Parkhill , June 13, 201411 Comments

Tori Amos

 

Tori Amos is hardly to blame for the existence of her fans’ expectations, nor for their disappointment when her work does not live up to them – but that doesn’t prevent that disappointment from feeling intensely personal, as though she’s slighting all of us when she releases an album as tepid as, say, 2009’s Abnormally Attracted to Sin. Of course, Tori is not the only recording artist who has ever disappointed their fans, but it is perhaps a testament to the emotional heft of her brilliant early work that we feel entitled to her very best work every time she releases a new album.

Every fellow Tori Amos fan – or, to use the cultish in-group terminology, ‘ear with feet’ – I have met doesn’t merely like her work; they love it viscerally, passionately, and with the same mixture of overwhelming adoration and a kernel of hatred for that same adoration that characterises the most tempestuous of love affairs. Our love for Amos cathects around personal traumas, rough patches, periods of whole-of-life upheavals. (A friend of mine confessed that he once planned to commit suicide to the soundtrack of her song ‘Gold Dust’, because it was so perfectly sad, but that the opening couplets convinced him to go on.) We love her and her work, of course, but we also partially despise her for making us so craven.

These strong emotions make it difficult to be an ‘ear with feet’, or perhaps a former ‘ear with feet’, especially in the face of a decade-long decline in quality in her oeuvre after 2002’s Scarlet’s Walk (arguably her last truly strong album). We expect a ‘return to form’ with each new album, and instead she delivers something overstuffed – the three albums that followed Scarlet’s Walk average just under twenty songs each – and shockingly unedited, as if she couldn’t bear to part with a single song idea, no matter how banal. (How else to explain The Beekeeper’s ‘Ireland’, a banal piece of fluff whose opening line is ‘Driving in my Saab, on my way to Ireland’?) Perhaps the worst part is that there is always something redeemable in these albums, such as American Doll Posse’s twenty-third song, ‘Dragon’, a meditative and understated piece of uncommon beauty. This mixture of strong emotional investment and increasingly disappointing albums with a few redeemable features lends the relationship I and many others have with Amos’ work a hint of Stockholm Syndrome – no matter how bad she gets, we love her and hold out hope that next time, things will be better.

For my own part, I quit caring about Tori Amos’ new releases after 2009’s album of reinterpreted Christmas carols, Midwinter Graces (possibly the nadir of her career). Her projects since then have had a quiescent character about them: a classical album that pays tribute to Bach, Debussy and Schubert (2011’s Night of Hunters); a collection of orchestral reinterpretations of her back catalogue (2012’s Gold Dust). I was happy to avoid giving these more than a cursory listen – they seemed only to confirm that Amos was no longer in the business of attempting to make fresh, vital music, and had shifted from an artist with something to say to an artist interested primarily in tending to their legacy. And I would have happily ignored her latest, Unrepentant Geraldines, were it not for Alex Macpherson’s thoughtful and positive review of it in the Quietus.

Unrepentant Geraldines is by no means perfect – there’s the obligatory piece of undercooked whimsy (‘Giant’s Rolling Pin’), and at just under an hour, it’s still a touch too long – but in its directness it more than compensates for the oblique, costumed misfires of its predecessors. It’s relieving to hear that Amos is no longer aiming for (and missing) the grand theatricality of her earlier work, instead focusing on turning out well-crafted little gems of songs – ones whose lustre is dulled, perhaps, by age and wisdom, but which are no less beautiful for it.

For this reason Unrepentant Geraldines feels like a break from Amos’ usual pattern of massively overhyped new albums that promise a ‘return to form’ but deliver something else. By delivering something so contrary to our expectations, something that with its gentle reserve risks being perceived as underwhelming, Amos has begun a process of creative rebirth that could herald a second act in her career – and a new relationship to her work for her fans. Or, as she puts it on album highlight ‘Oysters’, ‘I’m working my way back to me again.’

Chad Parkhill is a Melbourne-based writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Australian, Killings, The Lifted BrowMeanjin, and The Quietus, amongst others.

ACO logo




  • doodle

    I think Tori would benefit greatly from working with a producer, which she hasn’t done since 1994. And she records mostly at home, with her husband as sound engineer, who has always seemed to me like a “yes man” when it comes to her work. She needs someone in the studio to really push her and work with the songs…her talent is still there, no doubt, and I understand that she likely doesn’t want to compromise her vision of a new work with anyone, but something has indeed staled since Scarlet’s Walk. I think someone like T Bone Burnett would be a really good fit for her, and would be able to pull new and interesting things from her. He produced Elton John’s last couple albums, and there is a marked difference in quality.

    Tori albums have always been on the longer side, and I was pleased to see Geraldines come in under an hour (just under, if you’re counting). I think that also has a lot to do with the fall of the CD single as something people buy. With nowhere to really put her B-sides (and no producer to help her with which songs to leave off an album), I think she feels that she needs to get as many songs from the session as she can onto the album, even if it’s disruptive.

  • Richard Handal

    This “review” disturbs me. It IS possible to have a less dysfunctional relationship with the music than the author describes, most of which is based on outsized album expectations. I’m also sad that he has no clue as to the greatness of the “Night of Hunters” album.

  • http://www.k2k9.blogspot.com/ K.S. Mueller

    “decline in quality” ??? WHAT!? Her non-“rock” albums are brilliant. Hello?!

  • Hunter Bartlett

    Nigh of Hunters is a beautiful, ambitious album. I don’t understand how fans can so easily dismiss it.

  • Anne Convery

    I never understand complaints about the length of the albums. Shocking confession: there isn’t a single Tori album where I don’t skip tracks, from Little Earthquakes on. But I’d rather have more tracks and the option to skip them than not. I get that albums are packages, but I think it’s a mistake to look at them the same way you would a book. I’ve read plenty of books that I think could be better off 150 pages shorter. But to me, each song is a book, and like with any author, you have your hits and misses, and you don’t go back to read – or listen to – the misses. That doesn’t mean I wish the songs had never been written. Plus, there are songs all the time that I initially react negatively to that later hit me like a freight train with their meaning to my evolving life. I dunno. I’ll quote Hotel to sum it up: “Give me MOOOOORE, Give me MooooOOOORe, Give me MooooOOOOORE.” Ha.

  • Franco

    I really never understand the logic people use to critique Amos’ post 2005 creative output. I find the quality of her later work far superior to her 90s period. I don’t expect her to release another Little Earthquakes or Under the Pink, because to be so self-involved in ones 40s is tragic. And I’ve thoroughly enjoyed her experimenting on the records some consider to be among her weakest. When you compare her work to what passes as talent in pop music today, she can’t be beat. Each new record is researched, inspired and says something about the world that we live in now. I get it, when people first listened to Little Earthquakes they were young and impressionable and remember how it made them feel. Just because people don’t have those feelings about her later work is not a reflection on Tori, but on the listener. If you’ve grown with her you’ll get it. If you haven’t, you won’t. But to say the work after The Beekeeper is bad, is just plain lazy. I expect music to make me think, and Tori never disappoints on this front.

  • Josephine

    and here I’ve been thinking UG is just a tad too short. Not even an hour? More, please! Also, Night of Hunters is amazing. Haters gonna hate, but seriously….NoH is beautifully heartbreaking, and that’s what Tori does best. You’re not too cool for Tori, so get over yourself and your perceptions, and listen to the music without your pretense.

  • rabbitwithfangs

    Ugh. I have no time for the ‘critics convention’ that deems all ‘good’ fans hate Tori’s ’05 to ’09 work. I personally *love* the ‘Unholy Trinity’ of American Doll Posse, Abnormally Attracted To Sin and Midwinter Graces. They’re great albums – with missteps as on an any other album (how conveniently people forget misfires from the earlier records like China, Agent Orange, The Wrong Band the whole Strange Little Girls mess.) I’m loving Geraldines, but it’s not as exciting as when Tori is confident to skip the piano-ballad template and really mess around with some noise, whether it’s electric or classical.

  • Zasmain Callejon

    One word only thanks wow

    Dr Darfoor

9781863957434

Kill Your Darlings

What We’re Reading: Readings staff share their June picks

Looking for a book recommendation? Staff from Readings bookshop share what they’ve been reading this month. Read more »

lisa-gorton_the-life-of-houses

James Tierney

A Novel of Longer Exhalations: Lisa Gorton’s The Life of Houses

It’s sometimes said that each book teaches you how to read it. That each way of telling a story needs to not only beguile anew but needs to tutor the reader in the ways to best attend its pages. Read more »

9781743316337

Danielle Binks

Finding Books for Young Readers: The Reading Children’s Book Prize

James Patterson once said, ‘There’s no such thing as a kid who hates reading. There are kids who love reading and kids who are reading the wrong books.’ So how do we get the right books into the hands of budding bibliophiles? Well, the Readings Children’s Book Prize Shortlist is a great place to start. Read more »

clouds-of-sila-maria-1

Rebecca Shaw

The curse of the ‘gal pals’

As a well-known humourless, angry, hairy arm-pitted, feminist lesbian, I encounter daily issues that I can place on a scale from things that mildly irritate me all the way to things that completely offend me. Read more »

2691149967_01b38304f3_b

Rebecca Shaw

Fuck Yeah: Swearing like a lady

I had been trying to pinpoint exactly why the HBO television show Veep brings me such joy. Yes, it is a very funny, very well-written show with a great cast, but that didn’t quite go far enough in explaining the immense enjoyment it gives me. The eureuka moment finally struck when I stumbled over a compilation video of the best insults from the show. Read more »

AnneEdmonds-300dpi-sml-860x450_c

Alexandra Neill

Curse of the Comedienne: When comedy comes before gender

At this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, I saw only shows by women. I did this for several reasons: to support great comedians, to force myself to see more shows I knew nothing about, and because I really like comedy by ladies. I also did it because I was curious. I love comedy, but increasingly have been bothered by the obvious gender disparity. Read more »

Zombies

Michelle Roger

It’s All Just Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse

‘She’s just another Walking Dead hanger-on,’ I hear you say. Well, yes, I am partial to a bit of walker action. And yes, I may have entertained the odd erotic daydream about a crossbow carrying, scraggy-bearded redneck – but this is not where my zombie obsession began. Come gather around people. Hear my obsessive zombie-loving origin story. Read more »

tom-cruise-jack-reacher-premiere-postponed

Chris Somerville

A lit match in a box of wet dynamite: Tom Cruise is Jack Reacher

I first watched Jack Reacher a few years ago, in a spate of insomnia. The plot is a confused mess, both needlessly intricate and incredibly simple. I’m not going to go into it, mainly because I don’t actually know why the people in this movie do anything. Read more »

Partisan

Joanna Di Mattia

To experience the world with blinkers on: Ariel Kleiman’s Partisan

Partisan beautifully evokes that complex space between childhood and adulthood, when we start to question the worldview we have inherited – when we begin to see the world through our own eyes. It is both a coming-of-age story, and an innocence-coming-undone story. Read more »

Zombies

Michelle Roger

It’s All Just Preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse

‘She’s just another Walking Dead hanger-on,’ I hear you say. Well, yes, I am partial to a bit of walker action. And yes, I may have entertained the odd erotic daydream about a crossbow carrying, scraggy-bearded redneck – but this is not where my zombie obsession began. Come gather around people. Hear my obsessive zombie-loving origin story. Read more »

OITNB2

Anwen Crawford

Still in Prison: The limitations of Orange is the New Black

No, I haven’t binge-watched the entire new season of Orange Is The New Black in one sleepless, bleary-eyed frenzy. This season, the show’s third, doesn’t lend itself to that kind of viewing. The pace is slower, the cliff-hangers missing. Read more »

kim-kardashian-selfish-cover-main

Brodie Lancaster

We Are All Kardashians

For the past five years, I have loved and been obsessed with the Kardashians. Specifically, the E! reality series that made them famous. I often feel the need to intellectualise why I like these series and the people on them – you know, because I’m not a moron, and these are shows about morons, for morons. Read more »

ss_8df8236403f5aad45eeedd33d2bd545e45435b39.1920x1080

Katie Williams

The More Things Change: Choice and consequence in Life is Strange

You can either be a benevolent hero or a monster, but few games deal with the multitudes contained by actual people. And what does it matter, anyway? There’s no such thing as regret when it comes to in-game decision-making – not when you can so easily restart the game to see what outcome will result from choosing Option B instead. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

CrawlMeBlood_20150607_261_LoRes copy

Jane Howard

Adhocracy: Lifting the curtain on the creative process

Every June long weekend I wrap myself up in several extra layers and make my way to the Waterside Worker’s Hall in Port Adelaide for Adhocracy, Vitalstatistix’s annual hothouse that brings together artists from around the country for a weekend of creative development. Read more »

Orlando #2 - THE RABBLE

Jane Howard

This Is a Story of Artistic Excellence

This is a story of the first four plays I saw at Malthouse Theatre. It’s a story that can only continue as long as support for independent artists continues; it’s a story that can only keep growing as long as support for independent artists grows. It’s a story of where artistic excellence comes from, and how we get to see it on our main stages. Read more »

AnneEdmonds-300dpi-sml-860x450_c

Alexandra Neill

Curse of the Comedienne: When comedy comes before gender

At this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, I saw only shows by women. I did this for several reasons: to support great comedians, to force myself to see more shows I knew nothing about, and because I really like comedy by ladies. I also did it because I was curious. I love comedy, but increasingly have been bothered by the obvious gender disparity. Read more »