Tori Amos. A name that polarizes music lovers the world over. It’s hard to find someone with a middling opinion—people usually either love her, have a strong dislike that borders on loathing, or in much more rare instances are indifferent to her body of work wholesale, not connecting to it at all. This is the sign of a true artist, no matter a person’s opinion. After eleven albums, we find Tori on her twelfth endeavor once again stretching herself out into new directions that are sure to polarize her audience all over again.
Rising to fame in wake of the 90’s female rock revival most remembered for Lilith Fair, Tori Amos was never part of it, though she took advantage of the attention to gain fans and notoriety. Always difficult to pin down, she’s changed and evolved with every album: from her humble beginning as a girl and her piano with confessionals that had borderline uncomfortable lyrics, to electronica dabbler, to mature songwriter and explorer of the outer reaches of concept albums. Many women and various men in the 90’s were drawn to her quirkiness, her exploration of taboo topics and of the rawness of bearing her soul, no matter how twisted or complicated it may have been. Her’s was the music of the outsider, and those whole felt socially cast in that role identified with her. Then in the mid-2000’s, something happened. She became happy, got married, and had a child. No longer was she peddling the intricacies of her bitter soul, but focusing on womanly strength in a patriarchal society, the power of motherhood, and more. Many fans draw the line after 2002’s incredible post-9/11 exploration of America, Scarlet’s Walk, to be when she changed, much to many a person’s disappointment. Since then she’s focused heavily on concept and lacked an editor, producing the lengthiest albums of her career with The Beekeeper, American Doll Posse and Abnormally Attracted to Sin. While Scarlet’s Walk was long, 18 tracks to be precise, it never felt so because styles changed progressively and subtly as she traveled across America. Of course there are those dyed-in-the-wool Tori fans that follow her every step of the way, accepting her shift and being open-minded to the changes. But how will they take her latest turn?
In many ways it is a homecoming, back to basics effort. And yet, it stretches her out farther than she’s ever been. A classically trained pianist since the age of 5, she returns to what she started playing—classical. There have always been tracks that hinted at this side of her: “Yes, Anastasia,” “Icicle” and “Merman.” As a free agent without a record label, German classical label Deutsche Grammophon came to Tori with a proposition: create an album based on the themes and variations on compositions of classical music and they would record and distribute her album. She accepted the offer and Night of the Hunters is the result. For the first time in 15 years she’s set aside her collaboration with her touring band and instead focuses on her piano, with only minor accompaniment from strings and woodwinds. Described by Tori as a concept album about “a woman finding herself in the dying embers of a relationship,” this is only readily apparent in the first track, “Shattering Sea” as she denies the events of a terrible evening and the blood on the bathroom floor not belonging to her. It’s an epic start and a great way to hook those who have perhaps forgotten her visceral command of words.
From there the affair takes a much more metaphorical air, many times having more in common with alternate lyrics to Stravinsky’s” Rites of Spring” than any of the relationship-focused lyrics of her past. She uses “Snowblind” as reference to ignorance to a partner’s needs and “Battle of Trees” is a mini-epic with multiple sections that could fit into the Lord of the Rings soundtrack nicely. Her 10 year old daughter Natasha gets her vocal debut as the innocent voice of nature and a “fire muse” to which she converses, also lending the album many themes and archetypes of Greek mythology. For such a young age, her voice is impressive and doesn’t distract from Tori’s performance or the narrative. She even enhances the sense of theatricality far more than if Tori voiced all the characters herself. Some songs even have a strange, nonsensical Alice in Wonderland feel to them, such as “Cactus Practice.” Then there are even songs that feel like classic Tori through a classical filter, such as “Nautical Twilight,” “Your Ghost” or “Carry.”
When listening to classical music one accepts repetition and variations on common musical themes as it gives the piece a sense of continuity and flow. Through these parameters one can much more readily accept this album’s 70 minute length than some of her previous efforts. Each song has its own unique feel and melody, but it all blends in a way that doesn’t feel like sameness, but instead flow. For the first time in a while the album does not drag and no song seems like the obvious throwaway or dud. Each piece feels like an integral part of the whole.
Night of Hunters is a sublime mixture of classical music and modern songwriting. Tori deserves kudos and mass amounts of respect for taking this challenge and pulling it off so well. In doing so, she’s created her best album since Scarlet’s Walk. Not that this should be compared to any of her previous work, but instead it should be taken on its own and of its own merit. If you enjoy classical music, then check this out. If you’re an old school Tori fan who misses the “girl and her piano” that has almost been drowned out by wigs and costumes and concepts, then tune back in for this unique album. If you’re a super Tori fan then you already have this album and have been absorbing it for a while now, so no point in preaching to the choir. But as an avid Tori fan who’s been nonplussed for a few years, this album is a delightful experience and proves that no matter what themes and style she may take on, the girl and her piano are an indomitable force that will be around for years to come bending our minds and challenging the status quo of pop music.
Written by Jarad Matula