KYD Advent Calendar

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.

  • Pingback: Tori Weekly – 15 juin 2014 – Tori Amos France()

  • Zasmain Callejon

    One word only thanks wow

    Dr Darfoor

  • Pingback: Loving (and Hating) Tori Amos | Chad Parkhill()

9508984918_5d8a187fc1_z

Marika Sosnowski

Living Side by Side: Multiculturalism at Home and Abroad

It all seems quite idyllic – people of varying nationalities, religions and cultures coexisting peacefully. It could be a blueprint for the perfect multicultural society. However, there’s something beneath the surface that is troubling to the western notion of modern liberalism. Read more »

9864007066_4a196b364d_z

Tim Robertson

Fear, loathing, and the erosion of civil liberties

The hysteria currently being concocted by Australia’s political leaders is a smokescreen for the more serious threat facing everyone – an attack of the very freedoms and values our nation has been built on. Read more »

308982705_be9f94455b_b

Marika Sosnowski

Back inside: Life on the Syrian-Turkish border

In Turkey, less than 50 kilometres from the border, Syrians have chosen their favourite cafes, have opened Aleppine sweet shops and set up stores in the old city. Read more »

057212e0462005b9_Thumb

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part One): TV, Books, Technology

In the first of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in television, books and technology. Read more »

isabelle_cover_grande

Dark Places and Safe Spaces: S.A. Jones’ Isabelle of the Moon and Stars

S.A. Jones’ Isabelle of the Moon and Stars is a powerful and affecting depiction of a young woman struggling with mental illness and emotional turmoil. A book like Isabelle might well be described as the underdog of Australian publishing: a character-focused literary novel published by a small press … Read more »

w527705

Carody Culver

Taking Christmas off the shelf

Ah, Christmas – for some, a time of gift-giving, awkward family gatherings and over-zealous consumption of rum balls; for booksellers, a time to weep silent tears of stress and experience the irrational but persistent fear of being buried alive beneath boxes of the latest Stephen Fry memoir. Read more »

tumblr_naod7i6Sj61tk49ymo1_1280

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part Two): Film, Music, YA Literature, Pop Culture

In the second of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in film, music, young adult literature, and pop culture. Read more »

mariah-carey-all-i-want-for-christmas

Julia Tulloh

A SuperFestive Christmas playlist

I know what you’re thinking: lists like this became redundant in 1992, when Jon Bon Jovi rubbed shoulders with Cindy Crawford beneath a Christmas tree for the first and last time. Does the ideal of Christmas music get any better? Perhaps not, but many have tried. Here are a few other Christmassy pop goodies. Read more »

Kim_cover_web_

Julia Tulloh

Kim Kardashian, butts, and the internet

We’re used to seeing her butt, and we’re also used to Kim doing crazy publicity stunts. Her entire life is a publicity stunt in itself, both the means and end of a crazy, money-making, power-acquiring trajectory. Her very fame is built on the playful and shameless self-exposure captured in the Paper shoot. Read more »

tumblr_naod7i6Sj61tk49ymo1_1280

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part Two): Film, Music, YA Literature, Pop Culture

In the second of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in film, music, young adult literature, and pop culture. Read more »

Exodus-Gods-and-Kings-Poster-Bale-and-Edgerton-691x1024

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Problems with God: Exodus: Gods & Kings

This is the thing about retellings of old and beloved foundation stories: it’s impossible to come to them fresh, without trying to compare and contrast with previous versions for veracity and style. It’s usually the modern incarnation that comes up short. Read more »

Screen-Shot-2014-10-01-at-11.22.21-AM

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Can too many parts destroy an adaptation? The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

It’s a relief to feel the weight of fidelity lift off an adaptation film, as Mockingjay: Part 1 becomes a meta-exploration of fame, franchise and future. Read more »

057212e0462005b9_Thumb

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part One): TV, Books, Technology

In the first of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in television, books and technology. Read more »

3991099211_8397c745fe_b

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Taking up space: The legitimisation of creepshotting

There is a relationship between catcalling and creepshotting. Both are practices that involve the reduction of strangers to objects to be gawked at and commented on, which is what makes the ‘Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train’ Tumblr blog interesting and complex. Read more »

IMG_0086

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Pictures of pictures: Monument Valley and the rise of the in-game photographer

Presenting screencapturing a game as a form of camera-free ‘photography’ gives rise to a conceptual issue. If the ‘photographer’ is moving through, and capturing, a world created entirely by others, then who exactly should take the credit for any images created? Read more »

tumblr_naod7i6Sj61tk49ymo1_1280

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part Two): Film, Music, YA Literature, Pop Culture

In the second of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in film, music, young adult literature, and pop culture. Read more »

2447663467_2d543e6c87_o

Danielle Binks

Young Adult literature: genre is not readership

YA is not a genre – it is a readership. It may seem like pedantic nitpicking to focus on this distinction, but so pervasive is the mistake, amongst even established literary channels, that explaining the difference has become increasingly important and indeed necessary. Read more »

00page

Danielle Binks

Disability or superpower? Deaf identity in YA

‘We actually need more stories about deaf and hard of hearing characters and for their experiences to be shared in stories. Often, young readers believe they are ‘alone’ in their deafness and do not realise that there are many others like them.’ Read more »

tumblr_naod7i6Sj61tk49ymo1_1280

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part Two): Film, Music, YA Literature, Pop Culture

In the second of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in film, music, young adult literature, and pop culture. Read more »

mariah-carey-all-i-want-for-christmas

Julia Tulloh

A SuperFestive Christmas playlist

I know what you’re thinking: lists like this became redundant in 1992, when Jon Bon Jovi rubbed shoulders with Cindy Crawford beneath a Christmas tree for the first and last time. Does the ideal of Christmas music get any better? Perhaps not, but many have tried. Here are a few other Christmassy pop goodies. Read more »

drake-cover-650

Justin Wolfers

Drake’s climate change epiphany

Or: ‘Heat of the Moment’ as an epiphany in which Drake realises the urgency and importance of acting on climate change Read more »

057212e0462005b9_Thumb

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part One): TV, Books, Technology

In the first of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in television, books and technology. Read more »

??????????????????????

Stephanie Van Schilt

Lady Bosses on the Box

An increasing number of female-driven comedies, dramas or melodramas are popping up on our screens. Through the filters of fiction, the worlds these heroines inhabit directly reflect our own. This is the age of the lady boss. Read more »

105768385_5672eae965_z

Stephanie Van Schilt

Bananas without pyjamas? Budgets cuts and the next generation of ABC kids

From my humble beginnings watching kids’ programming, I learnt that ‘Your ABC’ was indeed, our ABC. The protests and public outcry which followed this week’s announcement of cuts to the ABC demonstrate its crucial role in fostering a sense of community for Australians. Read more »