When Tori Amos released her debut album the cliche of ‘girl with piano must be compared to Kate Bush’ was trotted out with dreary regularity. Amos is, and always has been. much more than a pale imitation of Kate. They are nothing alike, and she has forged her own path and created a body of work that is personal, political, feminine, feminist, weird, wonderful, and down to earth all at the same time. Native Invader is her fifteenth studio album and a welcome addition to the canon.
‘Reindeer King’ opens in typical Amos fashion (which is no bad thing) with a deep and resonant piano. However, there is a soundscape that is evocative of a barren winter landscape. Vocally, Amos sounds as confident and as strong as she did when she first made her mark on the musical map. ‘Wings’ makes use of an electric beat, synth and guitar and reminds the listener that this is an artist unafraid to take a risk. She sings: “sometimes big boys need to cry”; if this was the case we might not be watching fearfully as two giant egos square up to what looks like nuclear war. ‘Broken Arrow’ proves the point, utilising wah-wah guitar, acoustics and organs. It is gorgeously expansive and intimate yet it speaks of the schizophrenia of America and ponders: “have we lost track?”
‘Cloud Riders’ has a country twang and it is clear that Amos is reconnecting with her Native-American heritage whilst also commenting on her country’s state of affairs. ‘Up the Creek’ has an 1980s synth vibe overlaid with an 1800s folk Appalachian vocal. That reads like it shouldn’t work but it is a highlight of the album. Lyrically we hear of the “militia of the mind”. In an age where the complex is being overshadowed by the simple it is important to be reminded that the intellect should not, and must not, be shunned and that we need to join together. The piano break in the middle competes with a guitar solo to great effect; this is a technical and musically confident work but it never loses its heart.
‘Breakaway’ returns to vocal and piano and Amos excels at dragging you in with that wonderfully lush voice. ‘Wildwood’, ‘Chocolate Song’ and ‘Bang’ show a tight band, on point and confident and these three songs keep the whole show moving along. ‘Climb’ calls back to the best moments of debut Little Earthquakes but it isn’t a repeat but rather an evolution. Religion and its misuse by those that wield its dogma against women has always been a concern for Amos. Singing: “He said ‘Kneel before your judges in reverence your penance for the woman you’ll become'” the listener is reminded of the patriarchal nature of organised religion and its affect on those it sees as other.
‘Bats’, ‘Benjamin’ and ‘Mary’s Eyes’ bring the album to a close. ‘Mary’s Eyes’ is a strong finish with sweeping strings and vocals. The back story to the song is touched by the personal; Amos’ mother suffered a stroke that left her without her voice and the singer asks: “can you bring her back to life?”, foregrounding the fear of loss and the passage of time. Overall, Tori Amos is back, in blistering form and with something to say.