Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Summer Loving

The longer, brighter nights seem to get away from me faster than their shorter, darker friends. I come home from work brimming with excellent intentions and suddenly it's eleven at night and I'm still dancing around the house to my iPod instead of focusing on Virginia Woolf, my knitting project, or this blog. This, dear readers, is the true devilry of rock and roll - its procrastinatory powers.

I've been torn about what to put in this online space - the daily ramblings of The El-Jay are effortless, but this should be more of a thoughtful space. So I present something rambling and thoughtful: a play-by-play review of the new Tori Amos album.

While I love this album, it's more erratic in sound. Maybe I don't mean erratic, but rather eclectic. She's all over the place with sounds both old and new, in tone and mood. This could be an extension of the Doll Posse personae as well. I suppose that there's also the thematic linkage, though I tend not to dwell much on the lyrics during the first few times in an album. I am the sort of person who can spend years listening to a song, content with fuzzy lyrics or meaning (think early R.E.M.), and then will become utterly shocked when I actually figure out what's going on in the song. Suffice to say, my reactions here are more about the gut, the initial sound and flow of the tracks and the snippets of lyrics that I catch. The over analyzing of the lyrics are definitely more of an El-Jay pursuit.

Tori Amos -Abnormally Attracted to Sin

1. "Give": Dark from the start, feeling bits of Choirgirl here. She's stripped her sound back down again. It's focused without feeling too sparse, which leads to a greater sense of richness. Not rocking head bobbing, but a sort of swaying is provoked here.

2. "Welcome to England" : I completely understand why this is her first single. The more electronic stuff of late, but the lyrical flow and pulse of Venus/Scarlett (the two albums that I play the most). I am always a sucker for a gentle application of acoustic guitar with her strong piano rhythm. You can actually hear her piano here, which I want to say has been missing before ADP, but cannot be bothered at this point to go and research that. Call me on it if you can. This track is my favorite thus far. Also, "You've gotta bring your own sun...." See, the catchy lyric!

3. "Strong Black Vine" : Hi, Metallica circa S&M called and would like their sound back. I am too busy waiting for James to start singing to focus properly on this song.

4. "Flavor" : Bonus points for avoiding pretentious British spelling. There's the same atmosphere here as in "Give". A rolling, pulsing that could easily be monotonous but which she seems to make work. Atmospheric without making me fall asleep.

5. "Not Dying Today" : Okay, and now I'm waiting for... TMBG? Paul Simon? But it's working.... Okay, with the talking sing-song, I am totally heading to Graceland, Graceland, Memphis, TN. It's the underlying, continual throbbing that puts it in the Simon category for me. Bonus Gaiman reference? I still like this though. Playfully funky, if we're looking for the soundbite.

6. "Maybe California" : Just Tori and the piano/strings, as basic as it gets. I am somewhat underwhelmed by this track. Ridiculous after praising so much of the "OMG, piano!" of earlier tracks. I am writing this after listening to this track for the third or fourth time and my initial prediction of "I will probably grow to love this song" is so far pretty dead on.

7. "Curtain Call" : Loving the piano rhythm from the start. Good energy, good build. The darker songs have these ostinatos that just carry them through. Solid song. Strangely

8. "Fire to Your Plain" : My gut flipped when I heard the opening as I flashed back to the "... the power of orange knickers..." Slightly bizarre, but enjoyable. Could this be a perky Tori song that doesn't involve zebras?

9. "Police Me" : Getting back to the "noise", but this is an effective application of it. Interesting switch up to that, what at least feels to my mind, 60s syncopation. I'll keep listening to it, but it's not a favorite by any stretch.

10. "That Guy" : Somehow the sort of quirky that works for me. Nice swing. Gorgeous orchestration with just enough of a slant into the minor to give it some character. Third favorite song on the album after "Dying" and "England".

11. "Abnormally Attracted to Sin" : I never seem to care for the title tracks on her album, so my lack of amazement here shouldn't come as a surprise. I do like "impeccable peccadillo". Musically, I think she's trying to do too much here and it makes me want to skip on to the next song. On this listening, I sorta feel this would make a good James Bond theme. Or am I just insane?

12. "500 Miles" : So the Pretenders immediately come to mind, which really isn't the fault of the music, but rather the title. This song is... adorable. And I mean that in the best possible sense. It's about as twee as Tori gets, which I appreciate. She's helped away from the edge by the strong drum/rhythm line. "In the land of the midnight sun, I lost myself..." Am I still too hung up on the idea of sun (or the complete lack of it today in Oregon)? In the running for favorite song of the album.

13. "Mary Jane" : The evil step-sister of "Mr. Zebra". I sort of wish Horowitz was alive to cover this. I am trying to ignore the forced cadence on the lyrics. Otherwise, quite excellent.

14. "Starling" : Ummmm, oookaaaayyyyyyy. Well, it's growing on me. Still growing. Check back in a few weeks.

15. "Fast Horse" : Yes to guitar and piano joined in such a manner from the off. "Girl, you got to find you the man who something something Dark Side". No, that's not it. I am sorry, I am too busy dancing around to this to type properly.

16. "Ophelia" : I am a bit wary of anything purposefully directed this tragic heroine, but Tori seems determined to prove me wrong (also, see the above note about not really paying attention to the lyrics until much further along). Gorgeous, intricate piano work. Rich vocals. A win for me.

17. "Lady in Blue" : Slow and soulful start. An uncomfortable atmosphere - meaning that I'm feeling slightly unsettled here, instead of pulled into the swaying bliss of some of the songs above. Ah, and now she kicks up the energy and the piano and I am fully invested in the song again. I guess this album neatly illustrates my limitations as a listener. There's also a sort of cadence here, a sense of wrapping up. But I have been listening to too many musicals of late, so that could certainly be a side effect.

To sum: a solid album with moments of excellent and only one song that I can't be bothered to listen to. Well played.

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