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November 6, 2002

Added November 22, 2002

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A negative review of Scarlet's Walk appeared in the November 6, 2002 edition of the Washington Post. Thanks to Allison Barrett for being the first to tell me about it.

Tori Amos Embarks On Aimless 'Walk'

Tori Amos stakes out the mellow ground for true fans only, on her latest CD, "Scarlet's Walk." (Kurt Markus)

By Shannon Zimmerman
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, November 6, 2002; Page C05

Tori Amos -- erstwhile hair-metal hottie and, before that, D.C. piano bar chanteuse -- has managed to become quite the alt-rock entrepreneur. She sports a loyal fan base that obsessively analyzes her cryptic song-poetry and virtually ensures that every release rings up heavy-rotation sales regardless of the scant airplay she receives. No less an icon than R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe once asked Amos if he could borrow her crowd. And who could blame him? At this point, R.E.M. could use a few of the singer's hopelessly devoted fans.

To her credit, Amos never takes her audience for granted, and with "Scarlet's Walk," her latest CD, she sets a new standard for customer appreciation. Let the industry suits whine about file-sharing and threaten litigation that would turn their customers into criminals. Amos is focused on giving the people what they want: an actual reason to plunk down their hard-earned $20.

True, the "limited-edition" version of "Scarlet's Walk" lists for a few dollars more than the album itself, but, then the former package is a veritable horn of plenty, including Tori's map of the United States, a page of kiddie-cute cartoon stickers, and a set of faux-Polaroids featuring the artist herself, suitable for framing or affixing to the fridge with magnetic poetry. But wait, that's not all. You'll also receive access to the official "Scarlet's Walk" Web site, a DVD with a grainy travelogue-cum-music video, and a small rubber snake that, given Amos's peculiar lyrical obsessions, practically reeks of both religious and sexual innuendo. (Not suitable for children under 21.)

But impressive as the package is, Amos's real product (i.e., the disc's songs) is the musical equivalent of aromatherapy: "Scarlet's Walk" is pleasant, wispy and mostly of questionable therapeutic value. For the hour and change you're under its spell, the album is passably engaging. Once you snap to, though, you'll likely have a hard time remembering any of its tunes. Those tend to evaporate on contact with your brainpan.

That's not for lack of trying, however. Amos's lyrical ambition abounds, with the singer tackling pornography ("Amber Waves"), tragic love affairs ("A Sorta Fairytale," "Crazy"), and the mythology of America (just about every track here). Trouble is, the disc's relentless, snail's-pace cadence and barely modulated arrangements turn the tracks into a militantly mellow, new-agey morass, perfect for practicing the lotus pose or sipping camomile tea, but not much else.

There are a few exceptions, of course. The vaguely sinister "Pancake" finds the former choir girl cooing seductively over the top of a snaky bass line that prods the track's Lilith-lite melody toward actual catchiness, while "Mrs. Jesus" offers some much-needed grit, with Amos abandoning her celestial octave scaling and briefly spelunking around in her lower register. And "Taxi Ride," a thick and wobbly slice of jazz-inflected radio pop, is guaranteed to liven up any moments of quiet reflection.

But that's about it, which is a bit surprising. Amos at her best can deftly cross-wire the easy hooks of earlier piano-powered singers such as Carole King and Elton John with the avant edginess of a genuine weirdo like Kate Bush.

This time out, though, she mostly sounds like George Winston with attitude. "Scarlet's Walk" is for true believers only.

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