Many thanks to Lucy
for this review!
Archwamety, The Dartmouth
Tori Amos takes an
ambitious 'Walk' across America
In her seventh solo
album, Tori Amos takes a back seat to the world but a front seat to
herself as she plays the role of Scarlet -- the name of a woman
trekking across the country, and perhaps also the color of bleeding
pains. The lyrics are about what Scarlet observes during her travels;
the music is her woeful thoughts.
Walk" is intriguing for new fans and refreshing for loyal ones.
After the lukewarm reception to the hyped "Strange Little
Girls" -- a concept album consisting of songs originally sung by
men -- Amos was dropped by Atlantic Records. She then signed with
Epic, and if "Scarlet's Walk" is any indication, she won't
meet the same fate anytime soon. A map in the liner notes follows
Scarlet's travels. She gathers stories from the common folk as she
first flies from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and then chugs through all
50 states before arriving in D.C. As a result, location is a key
element in the music; a few tracks are titled after states, and a
line from "Sweet Sangria" seeks out the hustle and bustle
of "San Antone."
In the first 3:38,
Amos visits and introduces us to "Amber Waves," a decrepit
porn star. She's no longer young and beautiful, and has nowhere left
to turn; all that remains from her youth is her reluctance. As
Scarlet talks to the has-been, Amos' flowing piano gets a slight dose
of confusion, and the chorus turns to simple repetition.
When road trips and
glimmers of romance mix, Amos finds that she drifts off into "A
Sorta Fairytale," the next track and the first single. This song
is one of the album's best and arguably Amos' most immediately
likeable track since 1998's "Spark." A steady rhythm, a
slight melody and definite hooks have broken Amos into radio
playlists across the very nation she traverses in "Scarlet's
Walk." Unlike many other artists, though, Amos did not have to
sell out to get airplay -- she's kept her own sound while merely
putting an emphasis on the more radio-friendly elements.
In usual Tori form,
the vast majority of her songs are mid- to down-tempo, and none are
comfortably quick. One trademark of Amos is that all of her songs are
recognizable. Whether it's the better-known "Silent All These
Years" or her remake of "Enjoy the Silence," Amos
makes any song she sings distinctively hers.
recognizable sounds from her earlier work here. The "Scarlet's
Walk" tracks "Strange" and "Pancake" have
the same grating synthesizer that made us appreciate her songs
"Crucify" and "Strange Little Girl."
Amos does throw us
the occasional curveball; for instance, the shortest track on the
album, "Wednesday," starts off with an upbeat
southern-folky feel, slows down until Amos sounds like herself again,
and then drifts back to folk.
Emotions run the
gamut of sadness: Scarlet finds an angry sorrow in "Don't Make
Me Come to Vegas," when a woman refuses to go where a man
cheated her. A helpless disconsolation is the theme in "I Can't
See New York," a tale about entering "the other side";
there's a cynical sadness in "Mrs. Jesus," whose title is a
metaphor for a beggar's wish. There is a peaceful melancholy in
"Your Cloud," a story about two lovers who knew they
weren't meant for each other, and jaded grief in "Taxi
Ride," a monologue by an old man putting up with himself, set to
The final track,
"Gold Dust," is a simple reflection of life. The "gold
dust" is the highlights ("And the day she came / I'm
freezing that frame") in the narrator's otherwise mundane
existence, and also refers to the bits and pieces of orchestration
flittering throughout the song.
The cohesiveness of
both "Scarlet's Walk" and its individual songs is
remarkable. Amos has succeeded in making a consistently listenable
concept album. The disc is over 70 minutes long, but doesn't drag on.
One song flows into the next, and each song fits. With the exception
of "Wednesday," a decent-sounding song that should have
been located in the muddy South instead of Utah and Wyoming, the map
adds to the stability of the album.
Walk," which she wrote and self-produced in its entirety, Amos
returns to doing what she does best -- playing her own original
music. Aided by a difficult but workable concept, "Scarlet's
Walk" is a definite improvement over "Strange Little