Immersing herself in the comparably conventional work of others on last year’s Strange Little Girls seems to have rubbed off on the often off-kilter Tori Amos. On her seventh studio album, Scarlet’s Walk, the singer-songwriter traces her steps across a post-9/11 America. Her sonic novel unravels languidly over 70 minutes—Amos’s compositions have never been so straightforward, her arrangements so conservative. It’s not that Scarlet’s Walk isn’t thematically rich (as Scarlet, Amos encounters porn stars, rock stars, and the ghosts of slaughtered Native Americans on her path to American rediscovery), but most of the concept album’s 18 tracks plod along with the same midtempo pacing. It takes several listens to even distinguish one song from the next, and each listen pulls back layers of Amos’s intricate tale. Pop-culture references abound: “Amber Waves,” named after Julianne Moore’s character in Boogie Nights, tells the story of a burnt out porn star (“Into every young man’s bedroom/You gave it up/To every boy’s sweet dream with their paper cuts”) and “Pancake” (“It seems in vogue to be a closet misogynist homophobe,” she growls) attacks a hypocritical messiah figure (Bush, Eminem perhaps?). From the death of a gay friend (the stand-out “Taxi Ride”) to motherhood and the passage of time (the sweeping “Gold Dust”), Amos tackles more personal issues as well. But while it’s her most cohesive record since 1994’s Under the Pink, Scarlet’s Walk recreates the intimate musical textures of that album without fully capturing its mystery or magic.
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