Considering the extent to which her career has been defined by her self-indulgence, it’s hardly a surprise that Tori Amos would finally fulfill her oft-repeated dream of recording an album with a full orchestra. So, on the heels of Night of Hunters, her obtuse foray into classical music, comes Gold Dust, on which Amos is backed by conductor Jules Buckley of the Metropole Orchestra on an eclectic set of songs pulled from her rich back catalogue. There’s an intimacy to the album that fits well with the set’s most confessional material, but it doesn’t really work as a standalone project. Since the album was recorded live with minimal overdubs (a testament to Amos’s undeniable technical skill), Gold Dust has the feel of a concert album, and is thus inessential to everyone but her die-hard fans.
Through her masterful use of shifts in dynamics and tempo, her unconventional song structures, and her unique style as a pianist, Amos’s classical training has always been evident in her work. Moreover, the arrangements of early songs like “Yes, Anastasia” and “Silent All These Years” boasted a powerful orchestral bent that made Amos’s work distinct from that of other singer-songwriters, incorporating a sophisticated, high-minded aesthetic into contemporary pop. But this also raises important questions about the purpose of Gold Dust, as well as Amos’s selection of songs for the project. So many of the arrangements can most generously be described as subtle reinterpretations of the original studio versions.
Amos is in fine voice throughout, and the depth of sound provided by the Metropole Orchestra is consistently robust, but the classical-adjacent arrangements here rarely uncover new facets to Amos’s songs. Simply adding a string section to the refrain of “Jackie’s Strength” doesn’t in any way deepen the song’s pervasive sadness, nor does it make the composition any more sophisticated. It’s ultimately the rawness of Amos’s vocal turn that makes the new rendition of “Marianne” so devastating, not the orchestra, which is to-the-note faithful to the original recording. And while the album’s two most surprising inclusions—“Snow Cherries in France,” from Amos’s Tales of a Librarian anthology, and “Star of Wonder” from the holiday-themed Midwinter Graces—were both well worth revisiting outside the contexts of their original albums, neither song is really elevated by its full orchestra treatment.
Only “Precious Things” is done a disservice by the orchestral rendition, skewing toward a campy, Andrew Lloyd Webber theatricality in its bridge and final refrain, but “Flavor,” a cut from 2009’s Abnormally Attracted to Sin, benefits from the heightened sense of drama in its new arrangement. Unfortunately, the remainder of the tracks on Gold Dust simply aren’t significantly better or worse than they were in their original forms.
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