The San Diego Union-Tribune
Thanks to Ursula Ramirez for this review of Scarlet's Walk from the November 7, 2002 edition of The San Diego Union-Tribune.
"Her way. Tori Amos Opens Her Mind And Invites You In, As She Goes For A 'Walk'."
Like fellow faerie queens Stevie Nicks and Kate Bush, Tori Amos is an either-or proposition. She's a visionary Earth Mother or she's a flake. A poet or a pop irritant. Your best musical friend, or your worst boho-chick nightmare.
Either you follow her cosmic choreography or you don't, and if you don't, this dreamy puzzle of an album isn't going to pirouette you over the dividing line. But do yourself a favor and let it try.
In usual Tori fashion, Amos has sent her new CD into the world with an elaborate story attached. The "Scarlet" in "Scarlet's Walk" is an Everywoman who is crossing the por-9/11 United States in search of answers. What happened to our innocence? Why do we hate what we don't understand? Can we love each other enough to save ourselves?
Along the way, she commiserates with a porn star ("Amber Waves"), rescues a young girl from a manipulative lech ("Don't Make Me Come To Vegas"), and finds hope in the birth of a daughter ("Gold Dust"). In her spare time, she also tackles homophobia, democracy and Oliver Stone.
It is an ambitious sprawl of a journey, and it is made doubly daunting by Amos' baffling lyrical detours, not to mention melodies that drift like fog, obscuring helpful landmarks as they go.
But even as she wafts toward her own private landing strip, Amos keeps an eye out for stragglers. She doesn't want to lose you, and this album's best songs have both a cleareyed focus that makes them easy to follow and a hushed beauty that makes them hard to resist.
What we believe in, it matters now to you and me, Amos sings on the vivid "Sweet Sangria", summing up the album's scope and intimacy in one fierce phrase.
"Amber Waves" skewers our poisonous pop culture with shards of glimmering piano and a wiry, seductive chorus. "A Sorta Fairytale" uses a tender pillow-talk vocal to unravel a rootbound love affair. (For me to take your word, I had to steal it, she coos.) With its prowling keyboards and taut lyrics, "Sweet Sangria" expertly navigates the depths of a shadowy war, and "Don't Make Me Come To Vegas" nails greed, misogyny and abuse with a tribal beat and a cool eye for cutting details.
Amos attempts to cover a huge swath of territory here, and some of the songs get stretched too thin in the process. "Carbon" and "Strange" are pretty puffballs of empty atmospherics, "I Can't See New York" is both overinflated and maddeningly cryptic, and the eerie title track is a mood in search of a point.
But Amos finds her way again soon enough, and "Scarlet's Walk" gains a musical and emotional momentum that propels it past the speed bumps she occasionally throws in her own path. And once you have followed her through the waltz-time history lessons of "Virginia" and the birthing-room epiphanies of "Gold Dust," you won't have to check the odometer to know that you've been somewhere. You will feel the miles in your bones.
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