Twenty-two years ago, Tori Amos was the premier muse of America. Armed with fiery hair and vicious hands, she pounded her way through Little Earthquakes straight to the top of the charts. She was dangerous and beautiful and new. Tragically, she then did what all women do – she got older. Unrepentant Geraldines marks her 50th year on the planet and yet doesn’t beg the nauseating question many want it to: “can an artist reinvent herself after a certain age?”
What Amos does in her latest record is courteously sidestep the debate and write a mystical and vulnerable album, one that she most definitely couldn’t have written 10 years ago. The anger she fumbled with in her post-2000 records has matured without softening. This recording has notably closed the gap between what she says and how she says it. And while she deals with aging throughout the tracks, it is not the focal point. She has settled into herself, the way a woman of a certain age tends to do.
The record opens with ‘America,’ an elegant piece of songwriting casting the role of America with a wistful girl beside a stream, waiting patiently to be found again. That’s followed with the bluegrass anthem ‘Trouble’s Lament’ splitting Trouble from the Devil’s favour and sending it into the arms of women. She is most exposed with her third song ‘Wild Way,’ which will undoubtedly be remembered as the highlight of the album. Fat, heavy chords accompany the refrain “I hate you.” It’s the love song her fans have been waiting 22 years for.
The first four songs are the strongest as her mythological inspirations become less subtle in the middle of the album. The folky ‘Maids of Elfen-mere’ is a beautiful retelling of William Allingham’s poem, dealing with the dangers of interrupting the time. But Google is necessary to understand the situation. And while ‘Invisible Boy’ is an original tale of a man discovering his own mortality, it reads as a run-on sentence saturated with cliché and no musical absolution.
However, the consistent beauty of Amos’ album, and perhaps career, lies in her left hand. The common denominator in every record from Little Earthquakes to the modern day is the bottom half of the piano. She is more expressive with her instrument than most artists of this or the other generation. The lower notes carry you through, offering you a pathway that is certain. So you forgive her obtuseness without knowing why. You agree with her thought, though you’re not quite sure what thought she’s thinking.
While it’s not a conceptual album, it still exists as a concept. It stretches over a space of impersonal and personal, and offers an experience of homecoming that is not exclusive to weathered fans. The record ends with the operatic ‘Forest of Glass,’ which creates song-space for a character that is entrapped by something you could easily see through. Her character asks the question “Robbing the muse/Is that what I’ve done?”
So the concept might well be: Treat your muses kindly, for even they will one day get older.