A review of The Beekeeper appears in the February 18, 2005 edition of The Scotsman newspaper, which does publish in Scotland. The album gets 3 stars. Click to read the review.
You can read it online at news.scotsman.com or below:
Talents obscured by mask of maturity
TORI AMOS: THE BEEKEEPER ***
A COUPLE OF years ago, a journalist asked Tori Amos what she had left to sing about, now that she had a happy, stable relationship and a child, was reconciled with her father and had confronted most of her demons - the most public of which, the trauma of being raped when she was 22, played a role in making her famous, after she so memorably documented it in the harrowing Me and a Gun.
Amos seemed annoyed by the question. "Look," she said, "if you as a listener need people to be tortured to write, in your mind, 'good' stuff, then I think you're part of the problem." This is a fair point, but the journalist had a point, too.
Contentment is, for many artists, the enemy of creativity. And it is, in the end, the enemy of Amos's ninth album. An eccentric who rarely follows the obvious musical path, she is probably incapable of being bland, but here she veers dangerously close.
Once, your jaw would drop at the audacious lyrics (remember "boy you best pray that I bleed real soon"?) or the arrangements more like mini-symphonies than pop songs - revisit the final third of Under the Pink, or all of the astonishing Boys for Pele for examples of these. The Beekeeper is restrained and conventional on both counts; you want it to fly, and instead it mostly strolls.
The press blurb is revealing. The album, Amos says, was "musically inspired by the fact that the piano has realised that she has an organ.
"With my right hand on her organ and my left hand on her piano keys, I have been changed by the relationship between these two beautiful creatures, the Bosendorfer piano and the B3 Hammond organ."
This is very Tori Amos. She's often dismissed as a kook, on the grounds that her lyrics - and often interviews and press releases - are mystifyingly, nonsensically cryptic, as if she is speaking her own private language. This is unfair. It's more accurate to say that Amos - a smart, grounded woman - is so full of ideas that they tend to spill out in a flood; to be a fan is to pick through layers and layers of meaning. There's a lot of fun to be had, then, with the fact that most Tori Amos albums claim to have a theme. Her last one, Scarlet's Walk, was a kind of emotional road trip across America. On Strange Little Girls, she covered songs made famous by men (most memorably, Eminem).
Apparently, however, this album is about specific types of pianos and organs. Such nerdy studio talk is not promising, and neither is the first listen.
There's an awful lot here that feels like a nicely played but diluted version of what we've heard before, such as the duet with Damien Rice, The Power of Orange Knickers (great title, though). In describing the bitchiness of "those girls that smile kindly then rip your life to pieces", it can't help but summon memories of These Precious Things from her debut album, and its talk of "those demigods, with their nine-inch nails, and little fascist panties, tucked inside the heart of every nice girl". Which has more impact?
Later on we get Hoochie Woman. "I saw his face, I dropped my coffee," sings Amos. "He's cheating on me with a Hoochie Woman." Once, infidelity would have inspired passionate poetry but, perhaps because she's mature and attached now, the song is throwaway and played for laughs.
She's better when it feels from the heart, as on Sleeps With Butterflies, a sweet love song about missing a partner when they're away, but understanding that they need their own space, too: "I don't mind, I don't hold on to the tail of your kite". This feels more like something new - a mid-life Tori Amos song. Trouble is, it would sit comfortably on a David Gray album. Isn't Amos supposed to be leagues above that sort of middle-of-the-road balladry?
The Beekeeper improves on further listening. The melodies, and the lovely fluttering harmonies (particularly on Barons of Suburbia, which washed over me the first time) begin to lodge in the brain. Many fans may even prefer its subtle attractions to the breathless invention of her earlier work - just as many Kate Bush fans, if they're honest, listen to The Sensual World more than The Dreaming. But the confirmation of what was hinted at on Scarlet's Walk, that one of our most fiery, imaginative and taboo-breaking songwriters has slid peacefully into a middling middle-age, can't help but frustrate.
Nobody is asking her to give up her nice life in Cornwall. But PJ Harvey just made the uncompromising Uh Huh Her. David Byrne is trying opera, and even Prince is back on form. These are Amos's peers, right?