Music Review: Tori Amos, American Doll Posse

American Doll Posse is the latest album from Tori Amos.  Tori Amos has been a longstanding favorite of mine; her debut album Little Earthquakes was making the rounds back when I was in college (the first time around).  In that as in most of her early work, the predominant mode was this stripped-down, girl-at-the-piano sound which was capable of covering the full gamut of human emotion in a short space of time.  She is still capable of covering a wide range of human emotion in a short time and the girl-at-the-piano sound that we all knew and loved from the early years still shows through in some places, but she has added many layers of sophistication and maturity nowadays, both in terms of the polish of her sound and also in terms of her lyrical and musical expression.  Kind of what you would expect from a singer now in her 40s.  (Eek.)

American Doll Posse is a concept album.  The concept here is simply the posse–five women named Isabel, Tori, Pip, Clyde, and Santa.  (Interesting names, wouldn’t you say?)  Each woman has four or five songs associated with her (you can tell which song goes with which woman by the color of the lyrics on the lyric sheet).  Each woman has a slightly different personality, which you can tell from listening to the songs that are associated with her.  For instance, Isabel is the political one; her songs include the album’s opener “Yo George”, a scathing anti-Bush diatribe sure to rankle the more conservative among you (sorry–you’ve been warned), and “Dark Side of the Sun”, a well-crafted invective against radical Islam (“So how many young men have to lay down / Their life and their love of their woman / For some sick promise of heaven…Abraham and Ishmael turn back the clock”).  Clyde is the “ethereal” one; her songs are airy and emotional and include the feel-good, made for radio “Bouncing off Clouds” as well as “Girl Disappearing”, a hauntingly beautiful song about a woman losing herself.  Pip’s persona is edgy and aggressive; we chiefly see this in the songs “Teenage Hustling” and “Fat Slut”.

As a concept album, I am not sure how effective it is overall.  I find it hard to discern the differences in personality between the various “Posse” members, except for the examples mentioned above.  Perhaps with a few more listens, it may become clearer to me.  However, it hangs together much better as a concept album than Tori Amos’ previous album The Beekeeper, in which the songs were placed into various categories pertaining to gardening and it was almost impossible to tell why the songs were placed in the categories that they were placed in.  Scarlet’s Walk (the album before that) worked much better than The Beekeeper as a concept album, and it wasn’t even trying to be a concept album.

Musically, this album (along with Scarlet’s Walk) are the best she has done since Boys for Pele, my all-time favorite Tori Amos album.  There are many songs on this album which hearken back to Boys for Pele, such as “Programmable Soda” with its quirky brass-band backing which is reminiscent of “Mr. Zebra” or “The Wrong Band”, or “Girl Disappearing” which is reminiscent of “Hey Jupiter”, or “Bouncing off Clouds”, which, without the souped-up, made-for-radio polish, would be a lot like “Father Lucifer”.

All in all, I say this is a good album and you need to give it a listen.