She draws you in right away. “Father, I killed my monkey.” But why, Tori? Why would you kill your monkey? Oh, right, because you’re one of the angry ones, pounding your piano in an overflowing gush of angst. Fair enough.
To Venus and Back, Tori Amos’ latest effort, is a highly flawed, if not ambitious double CD, which highlights Tori’s anger (“I don’t think you even know/ what you think you just said/ so go on spill your seed/ shake your gun to the rasta man’s head,” from “Juarez”). It also accents her love of off kilter, bizarre lyrics (“Hey you gender nectar sifting through the grain of gold/ tripping at your door is that you/ alpha in her blood,” from “Lust”). For sure, To Venus and Back is a glimpse into the enrapturing ghosts of Tori, both past, present, and future.
What is startling in the present, though, underlying her vintage lyrics and vocals, is the new direction of the music. The eleven tracks on disc one’s Venus Orbiting represent a somewhat shocking and odd shift in sound. Gone is the simple, eerie, ethereal presence of a singular piece constructed around the powerful emotion of her piano. Instead, though the piano is obviously still there, Tori is dabbling in Björk-like electronica, drum loops, and sound effects. But while Bjork has made her oddly sensual and pleasantly irritating shriek fit snugly within her musical perspective, Tori trips on her own sense of ingenuity. Her voice and lyrics, her overall feel, and the intention of the art seem more suited to simplicity through power of emotion. Although she pulls through with the Little Earthquakes-like feel of “Bliss,” and the beauty of “Josephine” and “1,000 Oceans,” you have to wonder what the hell was going on when she recorded “Riot Proff” or “Datura.” They’re almost frightening in their urgency to sound different.
And then there’s her vocals. Only Natalie Merchant can drag out words and syllables so offensively and annoyingly. Why does the word bliss sound like “please?” Or “haze” like “highs?” Or “afraid” sound like “a fried?” A fried what, Tori? For the love of God, pick up a book on syntax for vocalists.
Fear not, though, Tori junkies: all is not lost. The unsettling oddness of the New Tori is somewhat nullified by the familiar glory of Venus Live, Still Orbiting. She lumbers through crowd pleasers (who am I kidding, they’re all crowd pleasers) like Earthquake’s “Precious Things” and “Girl,” and Under the Pink’s radio baby “Cornflake Girl” and “Space Dog.” As she screams along in her obsessed lilt, the audience hangs on every jaded word like it might be the last. It’s utter, operatic, enjoyable Tori. Kind of makes you wonder what happened.
All in all, it’s an effort best left to those who are dedicated. And ultimately, Tori fans would eat it up if she burped her songs over a toilet flushing and the rhythmic beats of a car running over a cow. Let them have their cake.