Like almost every Tori Amos album, there’s a wealth of mythology behind The Beekeeper. If Scarlet’s Walk explored America geographically, its follow-up delves into the country’s spiritual divide (the Culture War, as some in the media like to call it), addressing the ancient censorship of the Bible—“like an FCC deciding what Gospels we would hear and not hear,” Amos says in the album’s press release—where Mary Magdalene was written out of the story of Christ in the same way many would like to erase Janet Jackson from last year’s Super Bowl. “General Joy” makes reference to “hawks,” “a willing coalition,” and “liberty gagged,” while “Marys Of The Sea” re-empowers Magdalene and takes politicians to task for manipulating Jesus’s teachings: “Hey, you built on rock that’s on sand/For now you have hijacked the Son/Last time I checked he came to light the lamp for everyone.”
And then there’s the Beekeeper, who guides us through the album’s six gardens, a reflection, Amos says, “of the hexagon shape of the cells in the Beehive and of course the six days that it took God in Genesis to create the world.” While this is all fascinating in theory, you’ll be unlikely to decipher one garden from the next unless you’re a devout Toriphile. Almost immediately, though, it becomes evident that the divide between man and woman is the true unifying theme of the album, mirrored by the addition of a B3 Hammond organ, traditionally viewed as a “male” instrument, to Amos’s arrangements. “The Power Of Orange Knickers” applies the current cultural/political lexicon to male-female relationships, layering Amos’s harmonies with those of Damien Rice: “Can somebody tell me now who is this terrorist?” they both ask, presumably referring to each other. Amos’ secret is that her brightly colored power is hidden out of sight beneath her petty coat, while on “Hoochie Woman,” her power over a cheating lover is financial independence.
When Amos straddled the bench of a Robert Goble & Son harpsichord for her 1996 album Boys For Pele, it was—not unlike Bob Dylan plugging his guitar in for the very first time—both infuriating and exhilarating. The fact that she abandoned the distinctive stringed keyboard shortly after speaks about as much to the instrument’s divisiveness as it does to Amos’s loyalty to her Bösendorfer—Pele was a break-up album in every sense of the term and she pounded away at the harpsichord like it was a one night stand. (She would go on to have equally fertile, though slightly longer, dalliances with both industrial rock and electronica on From The Choirgirl Hotel and To Venus And Back.) But if the B3 Hammond is indeed the male “organ,” then Amos approaches it here with the hesitation of a green med school intern. In stark contrast to the way she took to the harpsichord, the B3 she plays on The Beekeeper pads quietly in the background, and the fire that fueled “Precious Things,” “Professional Widow,” and even “Hotel” has been all but snuffed out. (There’s a trace of that fire, however, at the end of “Barons Of Suburbia,” in which she repeats, “I am piecing a potion to combat your poison” several times before exclaiming, “She is risen, boys!/I said she is risen!”)
Like Scarlet, the arrangements on The Beekeeper are significantly reigned in, more conventional, even demure, harking back to Amos’s early days. (An album of only vocals and piano is inevitable—just wait.) The one new thing that is introduced on The Beekeeper is soul. Not soul in the spiritual sense—that’s always been there, clearly—but musical soul. Though Amos’s Hammond doesn’t exactly fulfill its church-like promise the way, say, the huge pipe organ in Nelly Furtado’s “Childhood Dreams” does, the addition of The London Community Gospel Choir befits the deep Southern drawl of songs like “Sweet The Sting” and “Witness,” and helps to set The Beekeeper apart from the often homogenous Scarlet’s Walk. Still, the album suffers the same plight as its predecessor: it’s about six or seven songs too long, perhaps a direct result of commercial singles—thus, an outlet for b-sides, which Amos is famous for—being a thing of the past. The Beekeeper is also, like Scarlet, less visceral and more intellectual than her previous work—maybe I just prefer Amos when she’s singing about surviving a rape, a break-up, or a miscarriage. Then again, there’s something to be said for simplicity; the rather straightforward “Ribbons Undone,” a lullabyish song for Amos’s daughter, is an album—and career—highlight.