Abnormally Attracted to Sin

Don’t go in if you are abnormally attracted to sin“, sings Tori Amos on the title track of her new record. And what a track ! It will fiercefully sting you, then slowly crawl under your skin with its bassline killer dance-riff mixed with sultrous electronics and weird repetitive patterns.

Let me say something right off the batt: she has again filled the album with enough doubtful songs to dilute the whole thing into an incoherent work. At this point, after 4 albums plagued with the same criticism, we have reached a point where we are certain this doesn’t happen by mistake. Tori is¬†obviously doing this deliberatly. She must have her reasons, and we should respect that. Now that it is said, I want to focus on the good stuff (roughly two thirds of the album).

At my first listen, I told a friend that this sounded to me like a Tokyo synth-harem. It’s suave, haunting, dark as hell and often angry; but this is not teenage anger I’m talking about. It’s a grown up person expressing appropriate rage. I would not want to hear a 40-something woman bitch about life like she’s a rebellious teenager.

From the first second of the trip-hoppy opener Give, we understand where this is going : Mrs Amos is dipping her toes into dangerous waters here. It seems like she’s freed of all expectation of what she must-and-must’nt be. This results in a bunch songs that sound fresh when compared to her previous repertoire, while carrying her unmistakable signature.

There is also a strong prog feel throughout the record : On Strong Black Vine, we feel like we’re listening to a 70s prog-rock extravaganza version of professional widow, while Police Me is catchy glam-rock with a strange madonna twist. Tori’s always be on the prog side with her songwriting, but this time more than ever, it is felt sonicly too, through loud guitar riffs, over-the-top drum lines and vintage (and awkward) keyboard use…

On the other hand, a lot of tunes have a jazzy feel. I’m thinking of the strangely beautiful That Guy, and the alien Lady in Blue, in which she moves from a 4-minute 1920’s jazz endaveour (that could easily be on the soundtrack to the next Lynch movie) to an instrumental rock ending.

Apart from the amazing standout tracks, most tracks end up being slightly forgettable (while still enjoyable), which is a shame. Lyrics seem to have taken a quality step down and song structures are more and more typical. The songs do, however, genuinely seem to have a common thread (at least the ones I don’t skip). I think my main pickle with the “new” tori, is that she has grown too much as a human being for me to still connect. The angst is gone (good for her), she seems content ; but I’m not there yet, and so I find it harder to grasp her music. I still listen, though, because I can’t do otherwize ūüôā

Overall, the album left me satisfied. It’s no Choirgirl Hotel, but it’s definetly worth the ride, despite its missteps (and there are many). That said, I sometimes also feel like this about her and this album.


Strong Black Vine

Abnormally attracted to format
May 22, 2009, 4:07 pm
Filed under: Music | Tags: , ,

I’ve realized something about art this week :¬†We have become so stuck with format, that we let it overcome our appreciation.¬†What prompted me to think about that this week was a combination of me listening to the new Tori Amos record (yet another 70+minutes long, incoherent and uneven collections of songs — review coming soon) while trying to come up with a decent plan with my band for how our upcoming album should be shaped.


Let me therefore use music and albums to illustrate my point. I won’t get into heavy details, but just outline the basic idea.

— Who says an album should be cohesive, under 50 minutes, feature songs that have to obviously relate to each other ? Who says an artist can only have one voice, one feeling, one audience at a time?

I think sometimes (not always)¬† it’s wonderful when an artist can present mutliple facets of himself/herself on the same album. It ends up acting as a timestamp of that person’s psyche. As listeners, we are able to follow and explore the artist’s states of mind during definite periods of time and acquire a precious familiarity with the complex being that they are and how they function. The price to pay here is that the album, as¬† a separate work, is just harder to define and may be difficult to get into.¬† On the flip side, this mostly works in the long term, especially when the artist releases a stream of such diversified albums.¬†We’re all human (yes, artists are human too) and we very well know that we are not defined solely by one state of mind, emotion, or mood during a two-year period.

From that stems the fact that we don’t need to like all songs on an album to find it great. We have to accept that we can only be receptive to a certain aspects of an artist’s work. We should still, however, allow the artist to express other facets that we may not connect and try to appreciate for what they are : a piece of a complex puzzle. In that equation, we are judging artists, not albums; which is a different perspective altogether, and, to me, is as interesting.

Part of the problem is rooted in the fact that the release format is not very flexible for most artists and it constrains what can be done. We are therefore automatically judging collections of songs as “albums” and sometimes fail to see that individual songs have their importance too, have something to say, separate from the others.

Of course, I’m not making the argument against coherent albums. ¬†However, I’m just stating that it may be time to stop rejecting the ones that are not. Because they, too, ¬†can be a true reflection of an artist and by no means should be used to diss them.

It really all depends on context. It is not in the benefit of all artists/album to be one or the other. It really is a case by case approach, and that’s how it should be. We should not judge an album by systematically comparing it to the other “great albums” we know and love. Every album is an entity to be taken in its own context and judged with different, personalized criteria.

bla bla bla…


I could go for hours talking about this. But I won’t. Also, my thought are not completely formed about this yet, but I thought I’d spit it out raw.