Tori Amos‘s 1992 debut was the stark ‘Me & A Gun’. A gut-wrenching, raw dolorifuge sung a cappella, it was the sonic autobiography of her rape aged 21.
Now some 25 years later Amos returns with her 15th studio album, Native Invader. What’s clear from the off is that the American is still battling emotional, physical and personal pain, but in a world now rife with political turmoil. The album’s triumvirate of thematic touchstones are environmental destruction, US political upheaval and most significantly, the calamitous stroke that left the artist’s mother unable to speak.
While comparisons with Kate Bush are now just yesterday’s news, they cannot be completely side-stepped, and are at their strongest on piano ballads such as opener Reindeer King. The album’s other singles Cloud Riders and Up The Creek couldn’t be more polarised. The former is a dreamy, country-bluesy slow-tempo track on which Amos’ vocal floats over a metaphorical storm and some seriously slick gospel organ. The latter is a finger picking funk-out that tackles Trumpton and all its vainglorious but reckless gibberish.
Native Invader dips in and out of the pockets of several genres and styles – Dooby-esque American rock (Broken Arrows), emotional electro-pop (Wings), inter-galactic sample-fused balladry replete with lush guitar rondos (Chocolate Song) and compelling, heartfelt piano mini-dramas (Bang). It’s possibly in the this last style of earnest balladry that Amos’ star still shines brightest.
Stand out is album closer Mary’s Eyes, an exquisitely choreographed waltz of piano and strings on which Amos questions the unquantifiable extent of her mother’s debilitation – “What’s behind Mary’s Eyes?” – in the most touching and serenest of vocals.
Like forerunner Bush, Tori Amos falls into the marmite category. She is an artist music fans will either adore or deplore. What cannot be disputed is her exceptional talent and enviable gift for innovation and re-imagining. The American’s legion of super-fans will wax lyrical about Native Invader, and so they should. Hopefully, others will opens their eyes, ears and hearts long enough to experience the wonder of Ms. Amos’ idiosyncratic virtuosity. 7/10
Native Invader is on release now via Decca Records. There is also a 15-track Deluxe edition available including two extra tracks Upside Down 2 and Russia.