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Denver Post (US)
Wednesday, December 4, 2002

Tori Amos' great American journey

Her 'Scarlet' CD ponders difficult issues since 9/11

by G. Brown
Denver Post Popular Music Writer

A year ago, in the weeks following the harrowing events of Sept. 11, Tori Amos embarked on a national concert tour.

Tori Amos' new album, 'Scarlet's Walk,' was produced after some soul- searching in the wake of her national tour after the events of 9/11. "As writers, we have to make our thoughts available to people, the ingredients that they can take and make their own pictures of this time," she said back then. "That is the space we hold. The whole idea of terrorism is to paralyze you to silence, like a lot of terrorists have silenced their women. If you take that metaphor further, you silence the feminine, the side that wants to speak about feelings.

"So it's essential that we allow ourselves the time we might need to grieve, and then you let yourself look and see what you see. And it might scare you. But I think that's part of it."

Amos returned with the basis for her seventh album, the new "Scarlet's Walk," a characteristically obtuse travelogue that turns the open roads of America into an extension of her own mythology-steeped head space. Dubbed a "sonic novel," it follows the titular title character as she embarks on a cross-country journey in search of the real her - and the soul of her country.

"No matter what you think of the French, they've always known that France is separate from the French. So is Eire for the Irish. So the kind of hubris that a young country has, that we define 'We're Americans' as the most important thought - no. Her soul is separate, different than our opinion of it. It's alive," Amos said recently.

In support of "Scarlet's Walk," she'll perform at Magness Arena on Thursday night.

"While I was out on the road last year, I felt like people were beginning a relationship with America that hadn't been there before. She wasn't just an object anymore. And that seed got planted when we saw her wounded and bleeding in New York City. It tapped into a collective memory that goes back a long time ago, when Native Americans were the caretakers of this land. ...

"I saw people ask the question that Scarlet's asking: Is the soul of our true mother in safe hands?"

Beginning with her solo debut, 1992's "Little Earthquakes," Amos has been best known for confessing deep secrets while pounding her Bosendorfer piano. With "Scarlet's Walk," she's produced one of her most cohesive and moving collections of atmospheric tracks, and perhaps the first batch of post-9/11 songs to doubt America rather than reaffirm faith in it.

"Some of our leaders were saying if you questioned what they were doing with America, then you didn't love America. And I found that offensive, emotional blackmail. And the idea of using terrorism to take away more of our freedoms was incredibly scary. It hearkened back to the McCarthy era.

"So I decided that we were at a crossroads as a country. And that if we wanted to get to know America's soul, not just what we want to see of her or what our forefathers and foremothers wanted you to see of her, we have to go back to her bloodline."

The 14-song pilgrimage gets off to a melancholy start. On "Amber Waves," Scarlet visits an aging porn star of that name.

"America is a character in this story. She shape-shifts, using that Native American belief," Amos explained. "So she's personified in Amber Waves, and carved in the manic-depressive woman, and the old Apache woman by the fire, and on and on. Besides Scarlet, the women are where you find slices of that cherry pie. The men, of course, are terra firma - earth. I like that idea."

The pensive-pop of "A Sorta Fairytale" appears next on the album. Scarlet moves down the California coast with a new lover and, unfortunately, awakes from the good times.

"When you hear the single on the radio, the good thing is that it's the fairy-tale version. They still like each other then, everything is going great. That's nice. Because why not have an 'in love' version?

"But on the album, they go to New Mexico. They go deeper and deeper, and he looks at her and says, 'You weren't my fantasy; you're not who I thought you were.' And she doesn't think she's any different than when he first met her. He just sees things that he didn't want to see."

The farther Scarlet progresses on her road trip, the more she comes to re-examine her beliefs about her country and her psyche.

"Scarlet's decided something's up, and she's asking her questions," Amos said. "But whether it's Miss Scarlet with the candlestick in the kitchen, I don't know."

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