23 May 2009

Tori Amos: "Abnormally Attracted to Sin"

My favorite MILF (hey she called herself that last time around) is back. Born Myra Ellen Amos, Tori Amos delivers her tenth studio album with “Abnormally Attracted to Sin” (19 May 2009); this album is the most engaging she has released in years. The depth and fluidity of the music is emotive; the stripped down sound is compelling; the simplicity of the vocals/lyrics are thought provoking. This album demonstrates that in so many ways Amos has traveled and grown from when she was the sole person on stage with her piano; the maturity, the lack of need to prove her virtuoso qualities, and her ability to weave a musical journey from many distinct thematic concepts is something that only an accomplished veteran can do so well. But for all the growth, she is still the same Amos that perplexes you as you listen, and it is a comfort that some things never change.

The opening track, “Give,” is a new sound for Amos, but not a new attitude: “So you heard I crossed over the line. Do I have regrets? Well, not yet?” What an amazing way, how empowering, to open the album with those words. Musically, think Portishead-type trip hop meets mellow gothic sound. The music alone will entrance you to keep listening. Then, encased is a poppy beat, the traditional piano, acoustic guitar, and a creepy background of keys, “Welcome to England” is arguably one of Amos’ best singles to date: “When your heart explodes, is it deathly cold? You must let the colors violate the blackness, the rest, a magic world in parallel, so leave your daily hell. ‘Welcome to England,’ he said, ‘welcome to my world.’” From a subjective to an objective song, from a personal acknowledgment to an observation of the world around her, Amos starts the journey into “sin” by twisting the listener both sonically and thematically – typical of Amos on the last three albums, the listener is always kept guessing what is going to happen next. The journey starts to come to a close over an hour later with the final track, “Lady in Blue.” Purely fictional, as Amos is happily married, the song is a depiction of a relationship falling apart, as the Lady in Blue wishes to join the boys who “play well into midnight.” This is a song of epic proportions (over seven minutes) that would make gothic aficionados happier than when I open vinyl records. (And of course, she wants to join the boys, be like the boys, because would this be an Amos album if there were not at least one moment of gender juxtaposition?) Everything in between, from her obsession with faith and religion, personal power, and of course sin, Amos creates a platform as attractive to the listener’s ear as sin is to her.

I never understood the phrase, “ugly as sin.” If sin were ugly, could it really be tempting? The power of simplicity in “Ophelia” (I am always a sucker for a good literary allusion) and borderline arabesque feel of “Strong Black Vine,” Amos produces a wide range of sonic soundsacpes, departing in many ways from her previous works, to make something “attractive.” The only common thread through all the songs is Amos’ voice and vocal style, somewhere between the almost (self) defeated gothic pain-in-voice style and cabaret. (Are the two really that far removed?) This is most obvious in the titular track, “Abnormally Attracted to Sin.” The second longest track of the album, though not of epic proportion, it still has that feeling of being greater than what it is. Her vocals, almost as if part of the instrumental arrangements, create the mood and texture of the song more than the actual music. Amos, one of the most able pianists in music and one of the most sophisticated songwriters in the industry, rarely allows her voice to dominate a song to the point that the music is almost ambient. But again, it is another soundscape that she needed to create. Actually, seventeen tracks, seventeen soundscapes, without single filler, the album never reproduces the same song twice.

The one thing I missed the most when initially listening to “Abnormally Attracted to Sin” was that unlike her other albums the songs seemed incomplete in some way, without a feeling of closure. Before hand, all of her songs were well developed, in the sense of having this definitive feeling to them, but such is not the case here. For example, “Fire to Your Plain” fails to unravel and develop into a powerful anthem, and “Mary Jane,” which of course had to be a plain song, contains some of Amos’s most interesting piano playing, leaving you hoping for more. Then, as I was falling asleep on the chase end of my couch, I found myself laughing at “Mary Jane.” Then I shot up from the coach, because I was ready to write this review. Amos always has a point; just because we can’t always figure it out does not mean that the point is not there. I guess, we all try to figure things out thinking, with words, but what Amos gives us here, in the lack of closure, is a peep into the process of catharsis, the means by which she is expelling her demons, her temptations to sins, allowing the listener to join in the journey and find his/her own catharsis. She gives you enough to start your own journey, allowing you to wander in this lack of closure, in the hopes of finding your own. This is an album meant to be experienced in your very fiber, in the memories of your experiences, and in relishing that you really should not have any “regrets… yet.”

Track Listing:
1. Give
2. Welcome to England
3. Strong Black Vine
4. Flavor
5. Not Dying Today
6. Maybe California
7. Curtain Call
8. Fire to Your Plain
9. Police Me
10. That Guy
11. Abnormally Attracted to Sin
12. 500 Miles
13. Mary Jane
14. Starling
15. Fast Horse
16. Ophelia
17. Lady in Blue

Keep up with Tori Amos at her homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here is the link for her video “Welcome to England” from the universalmusicgroup YouTube Channel.

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