Release Date: 09.21.99
Record label: WEA / Atlantic
Genre(s): Movies, Film Scores, Musicals, Etc.
Tori Does Not Quite Come Back
by: mark feldman
You're a Tori Amos fan, but with an asterisk - you think Little Earthquakes was a masterpiece (no argument here), you think Under the Pink was nearly its equal, but haven't been all that impressed with what she's done since. With slight trepidation, you fork over the 17 plus dollars for an album that exudes excess (in the form of two lavishly packaged CDs, one of them a live repackaging of 'greatest hits,' and just the fact that it's a Tori Amos album to begin with) even before it starts to spin in your player. The stark piano opening to "Bliss" permeates your living room with only a slight hint of electronic effects. You breathe a sigh of relief; "Aaaahhh," you think, "she's back to her roots."
But that's about as rootsy as it gets on the first disc of To Venus and Back, this maddeningly fascinating singer's contribution to the final months of the millennium. The quiet and stately verses of "Bliss," leading to the soaring , multi-tracked vocal choruses, and as she wails out "steady as it comes / right down to you / I've said it all / so maybe we're a bliss of another kind" we can all rejoice that Tori Amos has created another ballad for the ages. "Concertina" is another future classic, sporting a stately baroque arrangement reminiscent of "Past the Mission" and "Girl." Elsewhere, although she's more focused than she's been in five years, the new material really is new and different. In spite of having developed an acoustic image from her earlier work, Tori Amos delves further into being plugged than ever.
Fortunately, she's gotten more accustomed to the fact that her music is changing - rather than the dabbling, unfinished sound of some of the analogous experiments on her last couple of releases, every composition here is fully formed into a distinct and memorable musical piece. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line she lost the ability to make a lyrical impression equal to that of her music. Tori Amos is fast growing into a Steely Dan of the '90s, albeit a more abstract one. For every thought-provoking refrain like "You're the fiercest calm I've been in" there are dozens of beautiful but completely incomprehensible free associations. Sure, it's nice to hear some musings on the respective existences of variegated shell ginger, florida coonite, xanadu philodendron and clitoria blue pea, but frankly, "Me and a Gun" left a little bit stronger of an impression.
Then again, "Datura," the culprit song (and only a 'song' in the loosest sense of the word) behind said plants, is one of the most unique collection of sounds burned into a CD this decade. And after the wild experiments, the disc does wind down with slightly more traditional Tori - "Spring Haze" and the single "1000 Oceans" bring the piano back to the stage and demonstrate that Tori Amos can still write first rate acoustic pop that blows her imitators away when she chooses to. And for those who still like the old stuff better, there's always the live disc.