(Tori? Honey? Are you alright? Tori? Tori!)
Well, here's something else to make me to lick my slavering TRex chops with anticipation. Tori Amos will be releasing her 9th album on May 1st, "American Doll Posse" and from the looks of this promo photo, I don't think it's going to be quite the pink, frilly snooze-fest that was 2005's "The Beekeeper". Tori looks like she might have a thing or two on her mind, I dunno.
Tori Amos is like Thai food. People who love it looooooove it. People who hate it will go to elaborate lengths to avoid it. They'll cross the street to get away. My brother is one of those people. And unfortunately for him, so was my ex. (Of course, he liked Led Zeppelin and Sabbath, and, oh, god, Blue Oyster Cult.)
But also like Thai food, when Tori Amos's music is good, it's like sex in heaven. But when it's bad, it's really, really dismal. Take 1996's "Boys for Pele" (Please!), for instance. It was the first album Tori produced herself and also her first foray into the world of harpsichord, two maneuvers that both richly deserve to be filed in the drawer marked "Grave Tactical Errors".
I don't know what it is, but I can't stand any of the songs from that record. Her harpsichord playing sounds like someone sorting wire hangers with a lawn mower and every single irritating, annoying quirk and affectation of her singing is jacked up to 11. No, 12. (Do they make an amp that goes to 15?) I haaaaaate that record. It sounds like a hung-over Ani DiFranco covering the songs that didn't make the cut for Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera"™. It's bad. Bad bad.
"Boys for Pele" totally put me off Tori for about three years. I liked the first album, mostly enjoyed the second one, but with "Pele", I thought, "Huh. Maybe she just doesn't want people to actually like her music anymore. Maybe she's joined some kind of cult. Or maybe she's just taking a lot of peyote."
Anyway, that was it for me and Tori. I decided that it was all just a little too pink and moist in there for me. (Not that there's anything wrong with pink and moist, per se, if you like that sort of thing. I mean, some of my best friends are…oh, never mind.) She's crazy. Buh-bye.
Well, somebody I worked with at a restaurant in 1998 went and bought "From the Choirgirl Hotel" and after much coaxing and repeated listenings while we worked, I had to concede that okay, okay, I was back on board. "Pele" was some kind of random malfunction and our girl was back and maybe even a little less atrociously dressed (hey, even I can see that she's not the best dresser) and maybe not humping the piano quite so obnoxiously, or at least not as hard or for quite as long.
"To Venus and Back" and "Scarlet's Walk" showed us that Tori was still a bit loopy and occasionally downright cryptic, but now also expansive, musically ambitious, even cinematic. This is where the rubber meets the road in a musician's career, where years of training and discipline result in an artist continuing to push their boundaries and try new things and occasionally arrive at something truly astounding rather than turning into some kind of dubious, less interesting knock-off of their old shtick à la Trent Reznor or a million other bands we've all loved and lost.
How many times have you waited for some band's next record, pleading with them, pleading with God, "Please don't suck this time, please don't suck, please!"? And then you buy it and sure enough, it sucks. Or worse, it seems great for about two days and then you start to see the strings and wires and seams where it's all barely holding together and you realize then that no, actually, it really does suck. You were just letting your desire to love it cloud your judgement.
Kind of like getting back together with an ex, isn't it? But, I digress…
That was what made "The Beekeeper" so disappointing. After two breathtakingly amazing albums where it seemed like she was just getting better and bolder and yet somehow more concise and focused, it was like she took a big step backward. She turned around from her airy balcony and wandered back into the bedroom closet, back into the kind of claustrophobic, pages-from-my-diary, singer-songwriter stuff that was always her least interesting aspect to begin with, and possibly my least favorite form of popular music. It was like the music I imagine tinkling vaporously in the cocktail lounge at the Hotel California. You can check out any time you like and all, but you can NEVER TURN OFF THIS CD.
So, here comes "American Doll Posse" and a tour to follow. (She's playing in Florence, Italy on my birthday. Let's all go!) Will she be back on form or will it be another "Pele"/"Beekeeper"-style disappointment? The good news, either way, is that there is still music that makes me squirm with impatience to hear. I want it NOW NOW NOW! The suspense is K I L L I N G me.
I'll let you know.