Tori Amos' latest was inevitable for the conservatory-trained renegade: a song cycle inspired by European classical music, clad in strings and woodwinds. It doesn't rock, but it waltzes, spinning a tale involving animated trees, demons and what may be peyote cactus tea. There are pretty moments: the clarinet-piano duet "Seven Sisters," the tag-team vocals on "The Chase," the lush closer, "Carry." But often it feels like musical theater in need of a stage production.
Little good can come from the combination of the words 'pop' and 'classical'. Whether delivered in the form of compilations based around choice cuts from TV adverts (pity poor Carmina Burina and Nessun Dorma, long divorced from their original context and meaning and forced to act as shorthands for 'drama' or 'passion') or collections of syrupy takes on the old standards by wholesomely attractive young things, the popular classic album is a very dire thing indeed. (It's not that 'classical' music should be inaccessible as such, but when the term's been stretched to cover pretty much all music before the 1950s, and a fair amount afterwards, truthfully you're not going to get much out of it if you don't put a bit of effort in.
Tori Amos has attempted conceptual recordings as far back as Boys for Pele in 1996. It worked beautifully there, and on Scarlet's Walk, less so on The Beekeeper and American Doll Posse. Night of Hunters was created because of a commission by Deutsche Grammophon, to create a 21st century song cycle that took into account classical works from the last 400 years.
Review Summary: A headfirst lunge toward classical music inspires Tori to her best effort since Choirgirl.To say that Night of Hunters is highly conceptual is no great shock; that's what Tori Amos does these days, be it the cross-country tour of Scarlet's Walk, the gender-twisting Strange Little Girls, or the split-personailty conceit of American Doll Posse. It was more of a shock that Abnormally Attracted to Sin didn't have a concept, if anything.Yet for the first time since Scarlet's Walk, the more you read about the concept and the recording process, the more interesting it becomes. It's the first time she's recorded everything acoustically? Couldn't care less.
It would be difficult to accuse Tori Amos of resting on her laurels. The last ten years has seen her adopt increasingly strange concepts for each subsequent album, usually with strong visual elements in the form of identity-shifting make-up or multi-media platforms. She loves a good concept. Night of Hunters, Amos’ twelfth studio album, is the apex of these ambitious concept albums, although it would be best described as opera.
Having flirted with classical music forms at various points in her 20-year recording career, Tori Amos has finally committed in full. On Night of Hunters, her 12th studio album and, notably, first for Deutsche Grammophon, the Peabody Conservatory prodigy draws on four centuries of European art music (Bach, Schubert, Chopin, Satie, among others), as well as on popular balladry and elements of contemporary musical theater, to create a song cycle by turns intricate and impressionistic, demanding and enchanting. There are no guitars on the album and, save for Amos’s signature Bösendorfer, no percussion instruments.
Her musical for the National theatre won't be unveiled until 2012, but Amos's 12th album feels like a companion project. Arranged for piano, brass, strings and woodwind, and billed by the singer as "an ongoing, modern love story", it plays out like an intermittently absorbing, if overly demanding, night at the theatre. Devotees will no doubt swoon (and sceptics scoff) at its florid excesses, but Amos's voice possesses enough conviction and personality to breathe life into what could have been an orchestral folly.
Tori Amos in full-on concept-album mode is a dodgy proposition. Boys for Pele is perhaps the most purposefully dense album in her catalogue, and the better tracks on American Doll Posse were enhanced by her adoption of various personae. But Amos’s post-feminist covers record, Strange Little Girls, was a didactic exercise in gender politics, and The Beekeeper‘s unique structure couldn’t mask how dull and plodding Amos’s songwriting was.
Another Tori Amos album, another overarching concept – which elicits trepidation these days, given that, for the last decade, her material has creaked beneath laboured over-explanations in lieu of the thrillingly cryptic bewilderment she had the confidence to trade on in her artistic prime. Thankfully, her "classical song cycle" necessitates sonic ambition as well: that Amos can weave her own songs so deftly into variations on classical pieces is testament to her talent, and the piano/strings/woodwind arrangements of Night of Hunters frequently sound as lovely as earlier orchestral experiments such as Yes, Anastasia. The heart-pounding drama of opener Shattering Sea even nears that career highlight's intensity.
Hard work, but this is an album which reveals rewards. Nick Levine 2011 This album is hard work. Night of Hunters is billed as a "21st century song cycle inspired by select classical pieces spanning the last 400 years". "The protagonist", as Tori Amos describes the character she plays here, is "a woman who finds herself in the dying embers of a relationship".