To Venus And Back

Tori Amos

Atlantic Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer


It is common with female artists to have a strong sense of the feminist attitude, i.e. a strong pride in being who they are. And, each one of them has her own style of showing off this pride. Some try to be audaciously bold in a crass manner, which leads them nowhere. Some, in their attempt to get their point across, put up a façade of angst to say that they are brave women in a man's world, and are here to stay.

Tori Amos, unlike most of the other females in rock, doesn't have to sound "in-your-face" for people to notice her. Her subtly charming, yet pretentiously weird persona is irresistibly captivating -- and then there's the music, too. Amos is arguably the best pianist in contemporary music. She has an ear for making the piano talk, scream, laugh and cry in ways no one could ever imagine.

Of late, however, she has been experimenting a lot with electronics, with the result that her album From The Choirgirl Hotel turned out to be a psychedelic trip, full of synthesizers and layered textures, which is so uncharacteristic of her otherwise quixotic world, spun with beauty and grace with the aid of just her lone piano.

To Venus And Backmy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 saw Amos retreating back to her roots, though not fully. This is a two-cd set, the first one, titled Venus: Orbiting, is a disc of new studio material, whereas the second one, titled Venus: Still Orbiting, is a live album of the songs from her previous records.

Taking into consideration one CD at a time, Orbiting finds Amos somewhere between From The Choirgirl Hotel and Boys For Pele. The disc is much less complicated than Choirgirl's bombastic complexity or Pele's simplistic, yet theatric boastfulness. A good deal of the Amos of yesteryears is seen in songs like "Bliss," "Concertina" and "Spring Haze," which also happen to be the album standouts.

The after-effects of Choirgirl leak into "Juarez," "Glory Of The 80's," "Riot Proof" and "Datura," all of which are standout,s too. Hence, much like the rest of Amos' collection, Orbiting is a disc of standouts. It is, however, the least complicated of Amos' efforts.

Still Orbiting exhibits Amos' talent as an outstanding pianist, as if we didn't already know. This live CD is full of magic, created with the aid of just three musicians other than Amos. Her live performance on Still Orbiting is so exceptional that it simply overshadows the accompanying studio disc.

Amos' laid-back sophistication is irresistibly appealing, and she knows it, and puts this to good use during her live shows. Before introducing her unreleased track "Cooling," she describes in the most offhand manner why she hadn't released the track previously, and though it means very little as far as a good explanation is concerned, her way of putting it across is as alluring as it can be -- and she doesn't even have to try to be a "femme fatale."

Though Amos hasn't made many changes to the original versions on the live tracks, they still sound different from the original ones, and are much fresher and more personal: it feels as if Amos is a close friend, telling you weird stories of her life over a cup of coffee. She does, on most of the songs, tend to drag it longer that it ought to be, but this also adds an element of spontaneity to the numbers, which is so essential to a good live performance.

To Venus And Back reflects this dual side of Amos: the crazy musician on a transition from a highly experimental phase to something that is less ambitious, but still inclined to be far from the conventional, and an unassuming stranger -- at the same time a best friend -- creating sheer poetry out of sheer simplicity.

RATING: B+ ( Orbiting); A- ( Still Orbiting)

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2005 Vish Iyer and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atlantic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.