A glorified karaoke bar isn’t exactly the kind of place you’d expect to find an artist with a career as varied and prolific as Tori Amos’s. Granted, Tori got her start gigging at gay bars in the D.C. area, and NYC’s Spotlight Live is quite fancy for a karaoke bar—it’s a cozy, interactive venue where anyone (even Tyra Banks, who stopped by last week) can jump up on stage and do their best “Proud Mary” for patrons dining on Pretzel Crusted Pork Chops and Sno Cones. But this wasn’t just an impromptu night out on the town for Tori—it was the official release party for her ninth album, American Doll Posse.
Tori’s last couple of albums have been so concept-driven that, despite running upward of 80 minutes apiece (they’re like the alt-rock equivalents of a Janet Jackson album, minus the rain sounds and sex songs with no melodies), it was beginning to look like the singer-songwriter had run out of actual musical ideas. A friend of mine who works as creative director for a top advertising firm noted Doll Posse’s laughable concept and the cover’s impossible lighting and lame typography (“that of a high school art student on Prozac,” were his exact words). Naturally, the helpless chicken in Tori/Santa/Clyde/Isabel/Pip’s hands (I can’t be bothered to figure out which of the album’s five characters it is) steals the shot (see above). You can almost hear Tori changing her wig and assuming a new personality at regular intervals throughout the album, not because its different sections are in any way discernable, but because of the numerous interludes.
Those interludes just so happen to comprise the majority of the album’s best tracks. They’re quirky, energetic, and bold—everything Tori hasn’t been for years. Though Doll Posse is her most inspired work in almost a decade, things weren’t quite as energetic last night, but that was because Tori was flying solo. As she told us via improvised song, her “boys,” including drummer Matt Chamberlain, don’t quite know the new songs yet and the fictional members of her “doll posse” don’t know how to play piano (but they’re learning!), which means Tori, who was in fine voice, only had the chance to don one wig. (She also mentioned her imminent appearance on Regis & Kelly, which will have aired by the time you read this, and how ABC won’t allow her to sing the acronym “M.I.L.F.”)
Tori’s set was only a brief 30 minutes, aired live on Sirius Radio, and she plowed through an impassioned “Velvet Revolution,” the lovely “Roosterspur Bridge” and “Almost Rosey” (alas, not about Rosie O’Donnell), “Father’s Son,” and “Beauty Of Speed,” an album weak-spot that benefited from a stripped down presentation. Tori’s exit was abrupt, and I’d complain about the fact that there were no tunes about M.I.L.F.’s and no songs from her extensive back catalog, but, to be fair, the woman’s in the midst of a promotional whirlwind and being left wanting more from an artist 15 years into her career is definitely something worth celebrating.
This blog entry was originally published on Slant Magazine on the date above.