Tori Amos – Night of Hunters (2011)

I genuinely wonder sometimes how performers like Tori Amos have anything left in the tank. If you read her bio, you’ll see that she has basically been writing and performing music since she was five years old (I was eating sand when I was five). So now, forty three years later, I am just amazed at the fact that she can keep going at all. To say that she has been all over the music spectrum is a bit of an understatement since she has drifted to everything from a piano jazz bar sound to electronic dance music to fantasy concept albums about rape and incest. That pretty much brings us up to speed, which leaves us with Night of Hunters, her latest effort and apparent return to her “roots.” As always, it is a concept album. I would explain to you the concept if only I clearly understood it. I know it has something to do with a woman (surprise, surprise) isolated in an old Georgian home on the eve of her relationship’s destruction. From best I can tell, she suffers through an experience with shape shifting creatures, natural forces of “hunters” and the “hunted,” all so she can see better understand her value and place in the world by the end. Okay here’s the deal, I know this is going to smear some makeup with my friends over on the Alice Cooper blog, but I’m not here to assess the story. I’m here to assess the music, so on to it…

You occasionally come across an album that is quite simply an ode to a specific interest. You could argue King of Limbs was all for the drums and Is This It? was all about the guitars. It doesn’t seem too often that you come across an album entirely devoted to the PIANO! Well, here you have it. Much to the praise of her fan base, she returns to her stool and belts out beautiful melody after beautiful melody after beautiful melody throughout the album. It’s so utterly classical (yet beautiful) that I feel like I’m not really doing it justice. I know that virtually every tune heard on the album is actually a variation or simply a replaying of a classical piano piece in a different key, but it really doesn’t matter. All of the songs feel like they should be played in a concert hall. In terms of that aesthetic, you could even argue that the album is perfect. “Your Ghost” has the timeless feel of those subtly tragic Christmas hymns while “Job’s Coffin” feels oddly contemproary and even evoked similarities to Christina Perri (thanks large in part to a surreal vocal contribution from Amos’ ELEVEN year old daughter, Natasha).

The album does its best to incorporate other sounds and elements apart from the piano. Virtually every song is souped up with some sort of contribution. Amos pulls out all of her traditional stops by throwing in strings, horns, woodwinds and even the occasional brass siting. Personally, I think the album sounds better in its less theatrical moments of a woman and her art, but the additional sounds never really undercut the material. It just occasionally gives it more of a Broadway feel (on a big echoing number like “Edge of the Moon” or the borderline overture “Shattering Sea”), when I more enjoyed the moments that felt like a symphony (the tranquil “Star Whisperer”).

So you’re probably wondering why I’m not stamping this a 10/10 A+ must buy album. Quite simply, it suffers from the same problem that every Tori Amos album has suffered from… it’s just too long. I realize that that makes me sound like an ADD twenty-first century boob, but so many of the songs just seem to drag on well longer than they should. In a song like “Battle of Trees,” its low down ebb and flow style has pretty much exposed itself by the fourth minute. The song could easily wrap itself up but inexplicably drags on for four more minutes of the exact same thing over and over. The same could be argued for the final two minutes of “Edge of the Moon,” the final three minutes of “Fearlessness” and about the last five minutes of “Star Whisperer.” It doesn’t mean the songs aren’t good, it just means that in those three songs alone, I can count ten minutes of fluff! TEN MINUTES! The same could be argued for the lyrics which are surprisingly simple (basically “girl power”) despite the conference that sails well over my head.

I still commend Amos for her fearless artistic style in an era where there seems to be no room for it. She is repeatedly ambitious and intelligent with her projects and this most recent outing is no exception, likely going down as one of her best. I strongly recommend that those of you who have a penchant for the elegant archaic sounds of a true artist give this one a listen, just prepare to set aside a pretty good chunk of time for it.

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