Tori Amos: Unrepentant Geraldines (take 1)

Tori Amos returns with a mature and assured collection of tunes that may just be her best in more than a decade.

Tori Amos

Unrepentant Geraldines

Label: Mercury Classics
US Release Date: 2014-05-13
UK Release Date: 2014-05-12

The most striking aspect about Tori Amos’ newest record of original material (her 11th overall—not counting any cover albums, Christmas records, or “song cycles”) is that it isn’t easily lumped into the work she’s been producing as of late. She’s indicated on a few occasions that she came out of the past five years of working with orchestras, writing musicals, and singing Christmas songs with a new found re-invigoration for making music. However, Unrepentant Geraldines isn't dripping with the excitement you would expect from a reinvigorated artist. Though it’s not a drastic change from the familiar styles of Scarlet’s Walk, The Beekeeper, American Doll Posse and Abnormally Attracted to Sin, it fits somewhere outside that tetralogy of mediocre Tori, and possibly begins a new trajectory of maturity and assuredness.

Geraldines begins with the soft cooing of “America”, where she sings: “The other America / You can find her Sundays sitting by a stream / On her own / All alone”. It’s a soft non-intrusive track that harkens back to a tentative Tori. It’s refreshing, to be honest, not to be hit with the audaciousness that has typified her work from the ‘00s onwards. “Trouble’s Lament” follows with its southern swag and muted production quality. It’s a good enough song that rings with those characteristic Tori moments that make you like a song for the three or four seconds when the hook comes in. However, with only two songs in and an overabundance of that horrible guitar playing that is “Mac Aladdin” (ie. her husband) it’s becoming worrisome that this record may be her take on “Americana”. One listen to the simple “Wild Way” and that fear is quashed when she sings: “Yes, there was a time / You didn't always get your way back there where my heart / Was not so easy to invade”. It’s an endearing piano-centric love song that focus inwardly and acts as a nice follow-up to “Lust” from Venus.

At only three songs in, it has become clear that although there may be continuous and interlacing themes throughout this new record, there isn’t, for the first time in 12 years (!), an overreaching concept that is meant in some preposterous manner to tie these songs together. For the first time since To Venus and Back, Tori isn’t trying to sell you something. Tori has never shied away from the “concept” (and I use that term loosely) record. In fact, she’s revelled in it. When in the beginnings of her career the music had an organic cohesion that kept the songs in place, her later offerings have abandoned that process in favour of forcing the music to fit a concept that becomes too specific and convoluted to be truly moving. On Unrepentant Geraldines, she has managed to let the songs come together on their own, without constraining the listener to hear them in some specific manner. We can finally decide for ourselves how they fit this impressionistic painting theme that she has running throughout the album, making it sound lighter, more inviting and never dripping with some bigger sense of itself.

However, before we get ahead of ourselves that this record represents Tori’s glorious return to form, Geraldines is still rife with the inevitable “bad” Tori songs that seem to be a mainstay for Tori records lately. These tracks, and thankfully there are only really four of them, come right smack dab in the middle beginning with the ostensible “16 Shades of Blue”. It’s an odd track that is made odder by Tori’s lack of commitment in truly layering it with the atypical sounds that the song requires. “Blue” is amateurishly produced and dates Tori as a producer—perhaps a sign that it may be time to begin the dreaded collaboration with a different producer besides herself that can bring her songs to life. Having said that, though, it’s still a fairly good tune that is saved by some wonderful bridge moments and is the best of these “bad” songs. “Maids of Elfen-mere” is simple enough, but its lyrical content weighs it down and makes it far too “fantasy” to warm up to. In comes the roaring “Promise” that is the first proper duet between Tori and her 13 year old daughter Tash. The song is riddled with schmaltz too thick to forgive and just makes the whole experience embarrassing. “Promise”, with lines such as: “Tash: Promise not to take / Tori: Never take your phone / Tash: I mean take their word / Tori: You mean over yours”, comes off as a novelty track that should have remained between mother and daughter and has no place on this (or any other) Tori Amos record. Since Tash was born, Tori has never truly managed to capture their relationship properly in song that doesn’t come off as trite and emotionally manipulative (remember “Ribbons Undone”?). The unfunny, “Giant’s Rolling Pin”, is next—it’s a song about pies and the NSA or some blithering nonsense and is a complete throwaway track. The bright spot is that there are only four of these songs, one of which is still fairly salvageable, making the number of great tracks far outweigh the bad ones.

When the magnificent “Selkie” begins, you remember why you fell in love with this amazing woman who captured your heart. And thankfully, the rest of the album (even the ’70s-inspired title track) seamlessly glide through to the utterly captivating album closer “Invisible Boy”—the adorning and indisputable highlight of this entire record. A song so heart-wrenchingly beautiful that it would make purchasing Unrepentant Geraldines completely worth it even if the rest of the album was filled with reimaginings of “My Posse Can Do” or “Hoochie Woman”. It’s a song in the vein of “Dragon” or “Merman”, only more striking and touching. It’s a sincere and simple lullaby meant to celebrate your heartache instead of chastise you for it.

With Unrepentant Geraldines Tori managed finally to drop the act and step forward with what her most avid fans have been clamouring for for years—a mature and self-assured album, not clouded with unnecessary concepts or tied down by some pretentious and under-thought overarching message. An album that showcases her instrument (the piano) and isn’t overshadowed by the same band she’s been working with since ‘02s Scarlet’s Walk. An album that despite its three or four misgivings (and those are some pretty big misgivings) is STILL one of her very best in some time. It isn’t flippant like Abnormally Attracted to Sin, or rushed and convoluted like American Doll Posse. It’s not cutesy like The Beekeeper, or boring (production-wise) like Scarlet’s Walk. It’s soft and considerate, mature (in places) and heartwarming. It showcases Tori Amos the artist and musician placing her and her gifts front and centre in an honest and sincere way, hopefully leading her down a musical path that will only brighten her catalogue of wonderful and beautiful music.







Zadie Smith's 'Intimations' Essays Pandemic With Erudite Wit and Compassion

Zadie Smith's Intimations is an essay collection of gleaming, wry, and crisp prose that wears its erudition lightly but takes flight on both everyday and lofty matters.


Phil Elverum Sings His Memoir on 'Microphones in 2020'

On his first studio album under the Microphones moniker since 2003, Phil Elverum shows he has been recording the same song since he was a teenager in the mid-1990s. Microphones in 2020 might be his apex as a songwriter.


Washed Out's 'Purple Noon' Supplies Reassurance and Comfort

Washed Out's Purple Noon makes an argument against cynicism simply by existing and sounding as good as it does.


'Eight Gates' Is Jason Molina's Stark, Haunting, Posthumous Artistic Statement

The ten songs on Eight Gates from the late Jason Molina are fascinating, despite – or perhaps because of – their raw, unfinished feel.


Apocalypse '45 Uses Gloriously Restored Footage to Reveal the Ugliest Side of Our Nature

Erik Nelson's gorgeously restored Pacific War color footage in Apocalypse '45 makes a dramatic backdrop for his revealing interviews with veterans who survived the brutality of "a war without mercy".


12 Brilliant Recent Jazz Albums That Shouldn't Be Missed

There is so much wonderful creative music these days that even an apartment-bound critic misses too much of it. Here is jazz from the last 18 months that shouldn't be missed.


Blues Legend Bobby Rush Reinvigorates the Classic "Dust My Broom" (premiere)

Still going strong at 86, blues legend Bobby Rush presents "Dust My Broom" from an upcoming salute to Mississippi blues history, Rawer Than Raw, rendered in his inimitable style.


Folk Rock's the Brevet Give a Glimmer of Hope With "Blue Coast" (premiere)

Dreamy bits of sunshine find their way through the clouds of dreams dashed and lives on the brink of despair on "Blue Coast" from soulful rockers the Brevet.


Michael McArthur's "How to Fall in Love" Isn't a Roadmap (premiere)

In tune with classic 1970s folk, Michael McArthur weaves a spellbinding tale of personal growth and hope for the future with "How to Fall in Love".


Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.


The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.


Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.


Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.


Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.


The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.


Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.


Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.


Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.