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The Columbian (US)
Clark County/Vancouver, Washington, newspaper
Friday, September 9, 2005
[This article also appeared in the September 2005 issue of Music Monthly (Baltimore).]
An enticing buzz
By Alan Sculley, for The Columbian
Fans of Tori Amos know when she does a new CD, chances are her songs are going to be thematically linked.
On Amos' latest CD, "The Beekeeper," she uses the beehive as a metaphor for the world in general, using the society of bees as a backdrop for songs that explore big issues of the world, including hypocrisies of the war in Iraq, the battle women face to reconcile their spiritual and sexual sides of their being, and terrorism.
What listeners might not realize is the degree to which the lyrical theme carries through to the music itself.
On "The Beekeeper," Amos has stepped back from some of the complex arrangements and ornate instrumentation that has sometimes made her delicate and baroque-ish piano-centric music a little fussy. Instead, the new songs like "Parasol," "Ireland" and "Marys of the Sea" are highly inviting as Amos frequently pairs her familiar piano with Hammond organ creating a richly melodic and easily digestible sound.
Amos even grooves at times on "The Beekeeper," bringing a salsa-styled rhythm to the sensual ballad "Sweet the Sting," a tense, rolling pulse to "Barons of Suburbia" and getting downright soulful on the gospel-esque "Witness."
But any impression that "The Beekeeper," the ninth CD of Amos' career, is simpler musically than her earlier music is misleading, Amos said, as she also revealed how the bee theme helped focus the music.
"I think musically, if you talk to (drummer) Matt Chamberlain, he'll tell you it's really complicated rhythmically," Amos said. "People who can play music, you sit down and you try to play it. You sit and play 'Barons of Suburbia,' because Matt will tell you it's (bleeping hard)."
At the same time, though, Amos noted, she did try to make the songs straightforward and accessible.
"That's what we wanted, but what you're getting is you're getting a complex rhythm, no different than you would in a swarm of bees," Amos said. "Their wings beat differently. So that's what we were working off of, that within the hive itself the structure is complex, yet it's very structured. So there's just this paradox that we wanted to work off of. So yes, the rehearsal time for the musicians was longer. The musicians had to put in more time on this, and I think you feel it because people sound more relaxed." Just as the music may be deceptively complex, the lyrics on "The Beekeeper" also contain strong commentary that might not sink in on first listen. That shouldn't come as a surprise considering Amos has often cloaked messages in metaphors and usually is not one to use simple language to convey her thoughts. At times her lyrics can be nearly impenetrable.
Yet close listening to songs on "The Beekeeper" reveal considerable substance, thought and stinging commentary be it on "Barons of Suburbia," an attack on greed, or on "General Joy" and "Mother Revolution," two songs which criticize those who send a country's sons and daughters into war.
The subtle lyrical approach is no accident, Amos explained.
"How do you get through? How do you permeate? I'll tell you how you do it," Amos said. "You serve a delicious feast, and you're seductive and you invite people in."
At the same time, Amos was careful to qualify the tone she sought to bring to the lyrics on "The Beekeeper."
"This isn't an angry record," Amos said. "This record is not about that. There's enough anger right now happening. So we felt the only way to combat that was to create a space."
The depth and thoughtfulness of "The Beekeeper" is standard operating procedure for Amos, who 15 years after her first solo album, remains one of music's most compelling and intriguing talents.
The daughter of a Methodist minister and Eastern Cherokee mother, Amos, 41, lives in Cornwall, England with her husband, Mark Hawley and 4-year-old daughter, Natashya.
She first came on the scene in the hair metal band Y Kant Tori Read, which released one rather hideous record in 1988 before disbanding. Amos, stung by the band's failure, set about reinventing herself and re-emerged in 1991 with "Little Earthquakes," a startlingly honest and powerful debut that featured "Me and a Gun," a stark song that chronicled Amos' rape.
Subsequent albums, such as "Under the Pink" (1994), "Boys for Pele" and "Scarlet's Walk" (2002) have found Amos exploring topics ranging from religious oppression to motherhood to the inner battle between female spirituality and sexuality a topic that once again is a significant element in "The Beekeeper" and is embodied by two of Amos' role models, the Bibles' the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene.
At times Amos has been dismissed as flaky and downright kooky partly because her lyrics can be flighty and she's been known in interviews to delve into extended discussions of subjects ranging from the faerie world to a host of mythology topics.
But Amos is nothing if not thorough sometimes even scholarly in developing her lyrical ideas. Prior to writing "The Beekeeper," she studied the ancient art of beekeeping as well as Elaine Pagels' "The Gnostic Gospel," which suggests that Jesus' teachings were altered to diminish the role of women and that Mary Magdalene, for one, may have had a gospel edited out of existence.
The depth and emotional power Amos brings to her lyrics and music has earned one of the most fervishly devoted followings in pop music.
That, coupled with the sheer quality and individuality of her music, is probably a key reason Amos has endured in a music business that seemingly is always ready to cast aside last year's female star in favor of this year's newer, younger model.
This situation irks Amos, who said she remains determined not to be treated as an object within the entertainment world.
"A lot of times in our female singer/songwriters, we like to devour them, and once we have we go onto the next one," she said. "I'm just a lioness. That means I'm going to be hunting wildebeests until I'm 80. And if people don't want to come watch, that's fine. I'll still be hunting."
If you go
Who: Tori Amos.
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 9.
Where: The Amphitheater at Clark County, 17200 N.E. Delfel Road, Ridgefield.
Tickets: Ticketmaster, 360-573-7700.
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the World of Tori Amos