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Scarlet's Walk review from Martin

Added October 11, 2002

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Martin heard the entire album and sent me this review, parts of which will appear in the November 2002 issue of the German Magazine IQstyle.

TORI AMOS: Scarlet’s Walk (Epic/Sony)

Taking risks

After the myth around her seems to have faded recently, Tori Amos is back with a masterpiece that might be the work of a lifetime.

There’s been a lot of fuzz about this record, Amos‘ seventh release as a solo artist, and irritatingly it’s been less about the music and the album’s overall topic, instead it’s been about the circumstances of its release. Not even Eminem’s recent effort produced such a worldwide confusion about how "Scarlet’s Walk” might eventually surface, and it came clear only lately that this opus, Amos’ first for new label Epic Records, will be released in a special edition with a DVD that gives access to many goodies and lots of things her many fans will find delighting.

But before that everything seemed a bit chaotic, and this has led to quite some irritation foremost among journalists and reviewers. Amos handed out six unmixed tracks on a promo-sampler (something which has become the usual way recently) to her record company in late summer, and within 24 hours these tracks were all over the internet. So Amos decided "to take matters into our own hands”, as she stated: her technical crew developed a special glue, and the recipie for this seems to be as much of a secret as the old myth about what’s in a Coke and what is not. This glue then was used for a number of portable cd players – impossible to open up or even pull the headphone plug – which were handed out to journalists for a couple of hours until it had to be shipped back to Epic Records. The reason is clear: Amos was furious about the 18 (!) tracks on "Scarlet’s Walk” getting leaked before the official release at the end of October. On a sidenote, Epic asked Amos for that famous glue to use it on a couple of "important” records, the new Pearl Jam for example. But Amos denied the pledge. Some turbulences with delivering the glued discmen led to some reviewers basing their assumptions on the six tracks only – a bad move on their side, though probably not entirely their fault.

So, one might ask, is Amos now facing a second career as a glue producer, being quite aware that her record sales and her mass appeal had been on the decline after the seemingly rushed "To Venus And Back” (1999) and last year’s controversial cover album "Strange Little Girls”? Well, hopefully not.

All the distractions taken aside, "Scarlet’s Walk” is a masterpiece on many levels. First, sonically it’s absolutely brilliant, every single note is crystal clear and even her often mysterious backing vocals are shimmering with brilliance. Every single note sounds polished and taken care of, most of all the many guitar licks and layerings that play a significant role throughout the album.

Secondly, this is a concept album, but not one of those that unwillingly helped creating the punk outburst of the late 70ies when people had gotten sick of 20-minute epics on rather random matters by the likes of Pink Floyd, Genesis or, ugh, Yes. This time around Amos is hot on the heels of a fictional figure named, you guessed it, Scarlet who travels America from the west to the east and naturally meets many people underway until finally giving birth to a baby and thus making peace with herself and the rest of the world, which of course reflects upon Amos’ own motherhood. Sounds pretentious? It certainly does. But it’s high time to state that one should always prefer pretentiousness over Britney.

As smug as this concept might seem to some, it delivers the ground for a series of wonderful melodies, awesome harmonies and, let’s face it, beautiful music. What sounds mediocre on first hearing ("Your Cloud”, "Pancake”, "Mrs. Jesus”) later evolves into a certificate of Amos’ artistical integrity and her enormous sensuality. Other offers are easier to handle: "A Sorta Fairytale”, a brilliant choice for a single, is common ground for Amos, a flowing piece that clings from one highlight to the next and particularly delights with its pleasing bridge sections. "Wednesday” is a distant cousin of Amos standards as "Leather”, but it has chicken guitar, stomping drums and a sense of wit that Amos’ recent work seemed to lack, even though the song itself finds Scarlet in a state of furious anger. "Carbon” is an excursion into mexican rhythmic structures and piles up to a magnificent crescendo. "Don’t Make Me Come To Vegas” has as many vocal layers as you can count with your fingers, and the unbelievable noises at the beginning of "Sweet Sangria” make path for one of the best choruses she has ever delivered. As many other tracks it features fascinating guitar work so far unheard of on any of her previous records.

The highlights though appear later on this record: "I Can’t See New York” is an amazingly torturing seven minute epic that doesn’t let go off its seducing powers until the last note is finished. It even contains a sort of guitar solo (by Robbie Macintosh). "Taxi Ride” sees Amos on a more anguished note, as does the title track "Scarlet’s Walk”, the about only obviously political song: "What did you plan to do with all your freedom?” and "The land is now in good hands?” she asks, and it’s hard to tell if these questions go out to Scarlet, Amos herself, the Bush administration or somebody else. Finally there is "Gold Dust”, the second epic on this record with gorgeous strings and most of the trademarks that Amos became famous for in the first half of the 90ies. "We make it up as we go along”, she sings repeatedly – well, this is wrong as far as the sum of work and thoughts go that seem to have been put into this album.

Some of her overly critical fans and those people that never came to terms with Amos’ tricky offerings will find plenty to complain about on "Scarlet’s Walk”, for example that the piano doesn’t play the leading role on many songs, instead there’s more guitars then ever, a lot of rhythm and a total absence of "Professional Widow”-esque screaming and growling.

As an artist, Tori Amos might have delivered the work of a lifetime, taking high risks and avoiding many of the compromises her younger followers so easily give in to.


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