Wall Of Sound Album Review
September 1999

Added October 7, 1999

A review of "to venus and back" appeared on the Wall Of Sound web site in September 1999. You can also read the review below.

Tori Amos
to venus and back
Label: Atlantic
Genre: Rock, Pop
File Under: Space is the place
Rating: 83

"Tori Amos? Uh-uh. I just don't get her," a friend said on the phone the other night. If you're a guy and not of the sensitive '90s variety, you probably know what he means. Since the beginning, Amos' songs, like "Me and a Gun" and "Silent All These Years," have been about female victimization and empowerment, and if guys listened to what she had to say, it was like occasionally checking out the Lifetime channel — a little experiment to see how the other half lives.

On her previous effort, 1998's from the choirgirl hotel, Amos turned in one of her most lyrically obtuse, yet musically satisfying albums. Incorporating touches of electronica in a way that didn't overwhelm her familiar piano-based sound, she proved you could be a traditionalist and cutting-edge at the same time, an act few artists can pull off, regardless of their gender. to venus and back is a sprawling, two-disc album originally intended as a B-sides compilation, but turned into a full-blown collection of new songs once the muse — no, no, not Sharon Stone — dropped in for a spot of tea. She's as lyrically bizarre as ever — the album's first lines, from the song "Bliss," are, "Father, I killed my monkey/ I let it out/ To taste the sweet of spring." Consider that, plus the fact that she continually pronounces the title word "bleece," and you might think that Amos is merely toying with her audience.

But I don't think so. Somehow it's apparent that the song is about finding personal identity and separating from another. Amos' ability to convey meaning through her rangy voice and increasingly techno-tinged music is extraordinary, but that's been true for much of her career. What's intriguing on venus is that she's doing it with an almost entirely new sonic toolbox — the hard, percussive rhythms of "Juarez," the swirling, distorted vocals and recitation of "Datura," the subtle, sensuous textures of "Suede."

Disc two was recorded live on her 1998 Plugged tour, and it's a nice throw-in, but hardly as revelatory as the set's new material. With full, fleshed-out arrangements of songs like "Precious Things," "Cornflake Girl," and "Waitress," it's a nice souvenir for fans — guys included — who've been patient enough to listen to Amos and understand what she's about, even if she's never been able to tell us directly.

- Daniel Durchholz

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