September 8, 2017 Tori Amos – Native Invader (Album Review)
It takes immense talent and dedication to reach the point where you are releasing your fifteenth studio album; not many of today’s artists will see ever such a fete, while fewer still are worthy of this kind of longevity. Tori Amos is an artist with a vision and uncensored insight who, for well-over 25 years now, has never once hit pause. Native Invader becomes available everywhere on September 8th, 2017 on Decca Records.
Singer-Songwriter and Pianist Tori Amos debuted in 1992 with the phenomenal Little Earthquakes. With her gorgeous voice and classically-trained piano work – and oft semi-shocking, confoundingly poetic lyrics – Amos was a sensation from the get-go in the age of Seattle flannel. Twenty-five years and fourteen albums later – from 1994’s Under the Pink to 2014’s Unrepentant Geraldines – Amos continues to be a musical force quite like no other. Call her an Alt-Rocker, a Baroque Popster, or simply a gal with a piano, but do not ever make the mistake of missing out on this truly unique gem.
Her newest offering, the fifteen-song collection Native Invader – which is indeed Amos’ fifteenth studio album – was produced by Amos herself. The muses behind the album initially saw Amos returning to nature, traveling through the Smoky Mountains in the footsteps of her maternal grandfather, a Cherokee Indian. Sadly, this past winter, Amos’ mother suffered a stroke that left her partially paralyzed. Add to this personal weight the horrifying results of the 2016 U.S. election and the album’s muses took a whole new turn. As it stands, Native Invader is a gorgeously haunting collection that travels across the personal and the political, embracing nature and presenting Amos’ glorious mezzo-soprano voice.
Native Invader begins with the over seven-minute-long epic, “Reindeer King.” Amos’ beautifully dark, haunting vocals are accompanied by piano work that, at times, conjures images of fairies dancing in a sunshine-filled autumn meadow. A downtempo electronic beat sets the pace of “Wings” (“We built you some wings to help you deflate”), while smoky, bluesy electric guitar infiltrates “Broken Arrow.” First single “Cloud Riders” has the slightest tinge of Alt-Country in its wings, creating a meandering tale that, at one point, references: “A chariot pulled by cats / Purring, ‘We’ll be returning.’” This is the bizarrely poetic Amos that we all know and treasure!
Amos’ daughter Natashya Hawley duets on “Up the Creek,” an ominous spell. Hawley complements her mother flawlessly as the pair reference the “climate blind” and weave a tale of nature in dire need of respect, in a world that is pissing away her valuable resources. The quasi-political “Breakaway” is a minimalist presentation – solely vocals and piano – placing emphasis on lines like, “I feel betrayed by our so-called friends, not the friends we should have made.”
Your inner flower child will sway to “Wildwood,” with its electronic beat, airy guitars and gentle bongos, while “Chocolate Song” is a semi-sweet morsel of melody that molds a parallel between chocolate and love. The over six-minute-long, darkly full sound of “Bang” (“We are all made of stars”) is a meandering tale that is signature Tori Amos. The “Climb” back in time that follows is also fully Amos, with references to church walls and Sunday dresses, Koi ponds, and going back in time to save Veronica.
While you might expect purely Gothic and macabre resonance from something titled “Bats,” instead this is shimmering diamonds; a beautiful trance-inducing spell of melody and meandering sonics. “Benjamin” is equal parts guitars and piano, with Amos pleading “Tell me when!” It is followed flawlessly by an ode to Mother Mary, that is, Amos’ mother, in a gorgeously full sound that feels like the Little Earthquakes-era. “Sister despair, hide your tear around Mary,” Amos sings with heartfelt tenderness. It matches perfectly with the bittersweet “Upside Down” (“We’ve gotta turn that frown upside down”) and final track, the political discourse of “Russia.”
Native Invader is exactly what one would expect from Tori Amos: a splendidly meandering, darkly memorable, marvelously composed epic of melancholy and melody, personal pains and piano. The ability to close your eyes and lose yourself in Amos’ tales of personal pains, natural wanderings, and political pestilence is, as ever, entirely present here. There is no solving the puzzle that is Tori Amos, poetically or sonically, and it is a true gift to music lovers that this woman continues to create without boundaries after over two impressive decades. For never holding back, defying all, and always offering a beautifully poised punch, CrypticRock give Tori Amos’ Native Invader 5 of 5 stars.