After Strange Little Girls, it seemed that Tori Amos had jumped off the deep end and there was no way we were going to get her back. She had been abstract before in Boys For Pele and To Venus and Back, and her lyrics have typically gotten more abstract since Little Earthquakes and Under the Pink. But Strange Little Girls was a career suicide album, worthy of Lou Reed's worst offerings.
And then 9/11 happened. Another artist makes a statement. But
Tori used 9/11 as a geographic barometer of what was going on in
America. The result was
Scarlet's Walk, a return Tori's earlier, more accessible
works. Many of her songs on
Scarlet's Walk don't require a master's in English to figure
out: "Taxi Ride" touches on homophobia and the chilling "I Can't
See New York" is one of the best songs yet dealing with the
terrorist attacks on New York.
It is hard to say that Scarlet's Walk is Tori Amos' most assured album in years because all of her albums seem assured. It is definitely an album where Tori seems fully in control of her musical choices. That is one of Scarlet's Walk's greatest strengths.
Unfortunately, that is also one of its greatest weaknesses.
As polarizing as Boys For Pele was for die-hard fans of Tori's earlier works and as forgotten From The Choirgirl Hotel is in her collection, both albums had a sense of wonder and surprise to them. Tori could go back to her hyper-intimate settings of just her, her piano and her piercing lyrics, but then she could mix up the voodoo and let her freakish side dominate in songs like "Professional Widow" and "She's Your Cocaine."
On Scarlet's Walk, the mood is consistent. Almost too consistent. I've listened to this album scores of times and have actually had to replace it twice, but still, only about a third of these songs qualify as standouts. The others seem to add a great landscape, but no major sense of uniqueness to them. It's almost like Scarlet's Walk is far greater than the sum of its parts.
That all said, Scarlet's Walk is a short listen for an album that runs in the 70 minute range. The flow is so smooth, you feel guilty for skipping over some of the weaker tracks. And any artist that can hold your attention for that length of time in the age of cable modem access and hyper time-management is obviously doing something right.
Scarlet's Walk neatly fractures Tori Amos' catalog into two equal parts: the intimate, accessible Tori ( Little Earthquakes, Under the Pink and Scarlet's Walk) and the experimental, otherworldly Tori ( Boys for Pele, Choirgirl Hotel and Strange Little Girls) with To Venus and Back sitting comfortably in the middle.
After hearing Scarlet's Walk, it's amazing to me that Atlantic Records didn't do more to keep Tori in their roster. She has a fan base that will follow her through even her most experimental phases. That is because most know that for every time she dives off the deep end, she will come back, more rooted than ever and release an album like Scarlet's Walk.
The album's theme is enlightenment through motion. It's a walk worth exploring.
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