Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tori Amos: "Midwinter Graces'" Previews 'The Light Princess'!

I'm not going to waste your time reviewing Tori Amos's brand-new album, Midwinter Graces, because 1) Others have written excellent and well-researched reviews (see Undented for links to many); 2) I'm obviously biased; and 3) Anyone who is a Tori Amos fan doesn't need a review in order to give any of her new work a chance.

But that doesn't mean I don't have anything to say about it.

First, in my opinion, this is Tori's best album (as a whole) since 2001's Scarlet's Walk. I never stop hoping that she will tap back into the energy that unleased Boys for Pele on the world, because that album's raw emotion and experiemental composition and orchestration is, simply, a beautiful piece of architecture. But Scarlet's Walk, which Tori calls her "sonic novel," is a true masterpiece. Taken in from beginning to end, and taking the months (years?) necessary to parse the human, historic, geographic and spiritual elements that make up the album, it's simply a work of genius. Those who think it is too even-keeled are mostly fans who miss Tori's fire, and those who think it is too esoteric simply are not convinced that it's more than pop music, or aren't interested in music being any more than simple entertainment.

Midwinter Graces is Tori's second "librarian" work. It is the product of what makes Tori Amos unique and it is an example of her high ambitions coming together into a master work. All of her personal culture (minister's daughter, mother's daughter, feminist, expat, mother) and spiritual struggles and inquisitiveness (varieties of Western religious history and spiritual and magical beliefs) are threaded through these songs--but they don't suffer from it.

There is not a bad song or a failed experiement on this album. While some songs are straightforward reinterpretations of Christmas music, most are Amos essays, commentaries on her relentless faith that Christianity and other religious beliefs have strong, even holy, roots, but that they've been eroded by time and human corruption.

But don't worry: If that's something that you hate about Tori Amos (it's the main reason I love her, personally), you won't hear it if you choose not to. Midwinter Graces can be received as a simple gift of lovely holiday music that reaches back into history and forward into the future, and which is based on, above all other things, love, family and peace among men and women. There is nothing profane or even objectionable, unless you object to other people having points of view that are not exactly the same as yours.

The one song that pushes the 'holiday' genre envelope is also the best on the album. And most exciting, Tori reveals in the interview video that comes with the iTunes album download, that song, "Winter's Carol," is actually taken from her musical-in-the-works, The Light Princess.

During the period when I interviewed Tori in February of 2008 for Geek Monthly magazine, she wasn't shy about talking about the musical. Since then, she has said little about the project, although some of her comments have suggested that the project might be experiencing developmental difficulties, and might even be on hold. And let's be honest, Tori works best when following her own muse, not the instruction of stage directors and producers, and to imagine a (likely) piano-driven stage musical interpretation of a Victorian fairy tale about a princess who can't keep from flying except when she's underwater...well, let's just say that's classic Tori ambition.

But after hearing "Winter's Carol," I'm not only excited about the musical; I'm confident that it will live up to its potential, at the very least musically. I will be one of the first in line for tickets. And yes, I will fly to London just to see the play.

This album is a gift. If you haven't bought it yet, here is a preview someone made. (Just a note about this preview: It doesn't do justice to a lot of the songs--including "Winter's Carol"--as they typically undulate from verse to verse to chorus and don't judge based upon 30-second previews!)

Happy Midwinter!

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