Sunday, November 30, 2014
Night of Hunters - Tori Amos
Deutsche Grammophon B0015900-01
If ever there was a pop music artist worthy of recording for the venerable classical music label Deutsche Grammophon, it is Tori Amos. She approaches her music with extreme seriousness and on this album each song is inspired by the work of a classical composer. Furthermore her principle instrument is a Bösendorfer grand piano and on this particular album she is backed by classical instrumentation throughout. When I saw her perform at the Orpheum in support of this record she was backed by a string quartet, but on the record she is also supported by woodwinds. The result is the most sonically impressive and arguably most ambitious record of her long career. It is beautifully recorded and it sounds fantastic on vinyl. It is a concept album that analyzes a disintegrating relationship from a mystical perspective. The opening track, "Shattering Sea," is inspired by a piece by Charles-Valentin Alkan. The song is driven by a dynamic piano riff as Amos looks around at the aftermath of a fight with her lover. The evocative language of the song and the powerful music compare favorably with her best songs. "Snowblind" is taken from a work by Enrique Granados. In this song Amos encounters Anabelle, a magical creature who appears to her in the guise of a fox. Anabelle invites her to travel into the past to see a past incarnation of herself and her lover. Anabelle is portrayed by Amos' daughter Natashya Hawley whose voice blends well with Amos' voice in their duet. "Battle of Trees" comes from Satie. The song depicts the events of 3,000 years ago in which Amos and her lover engage in a battle in Ireland against magical forces using language. The song is a bit too fey for my taste, however it is such a beautiful song that I don't mind. She could be singing gibberish and I'd still be entranced. Amos and her lover lose the battle and take flight upon the sea in "Fearlessness." Dark magical forces stir up doubt in her lover and drive them apart. She returns to Granados again for this song and the interaction between her turbulent piano lines and the orchestration is very stirring, musically creating the sensation of a storm at sea. It is one of my favorite tracks on the album. She created "Cactus Practice" from a nocturne by Chopin and it is another duet with her daughter. In this song she encounters Anabelle in the form of a goose. They discuss the conflicts between Amos and her lover and Anabelle induces her to drink a potion produced from a cactus in order to more clearly perceive her situation. The result is described in the somber "Star Whisperer" which is derived from a Schubert piano sonata. The song uses the natural world to create foreboding and depict alienation as discord rises between her and her lover. The song features more dynamic interaction between the piano and the orchestra that validates Amos' decision to employ classical musical themes in her work. "Job's Coffin" sees the return of Anabelle in the form of a fox. The song invokes nature once more as the stars look down upon the earth to observe the self-destructive power struggle between the sexes. Anabelle tells Amos that she must consult the Fire Muse to put her life back in order and regain her strength. "Job's Coffin" is inspired by her following song "Nautical Twilight" which comes from a song by Felix Mendelssohn. In this song Amos laments that she left her world to follow her lover and thus lost the force of which she is made. She complains of the obsessions that consume her lover and drive them apart. "Your Ghost" is based on a piece by Schumann. The interplay between Amos' piano and the string quartet is particularly compelling in this delicate and bewitching song. In this song she is addressing the memory of her lost love. She continues to ruminate on her lost lover in "Edge of the Moon" which comes from a Bach sonata. The latter portion of the song is very kinetic and Amos double tracks her vocal to great effect. "The Chase" is derived from Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition." Anabelle returns once more (as a goose) and she and Amos sing about the relationship between the hunter and the hunted and the duality of the two within people, particularly as symbols in the relations between the sexes. Amos at last meets the Fire Muse (sung by Kelsey Dobyns) in "Night of Hunters" which was created from a Gregorian chant and a sonata by Scarlatti. The song is loaded with religious and mystical language as it further explores the symbolism of the hunter/hunted dynamic among people. Amos again invokes the image of constellations (the Pleiades this time) watching over the human race as the Fire Muse and Amos discuss the dark forces that corrupt people. She takes up Bach again for "Seven Sisters" which is an instrumental featuring her piano and an oboe played by Andreas Ottensamer. It is a lovely passage of music. The album concludes with "Carry" which was inspired by a prelude by Debussy. In this majestic song, Amos celebrates the contributions that the people she has loved have made in her life. She realizes that although they have left her, she will always remember them, "they carry on as stars looking down as Nature's Sons and Daughters of the Heavens." It is an uplifting finale to a rather dark record. I'm not normally drawn to mysticism or spirituality, but I find Amos' use of them in her libretto to be effective. They give her tale depth and resonance and I also admire her symbolic use of the natural world. One rarely finds such artistry and intelligence in pop music and that is just the lyrics. The music itself pushes the boundaries between pop and classical music utilizing the best elements of both. I love this record, I think it is Amos' best album since "Under the Pink." I respect her for taking chances and exploring new avenues in her work so late in her career. Kudos to Deutsche Grammophon for recognizing Amos's special gift and encouraging her to express it. Recommended to Leonard Cohen fans who dig Schubert and Tolkien.