Sunday, February 27, 2005

Kat's Korner: Tori releases The Beekeeper and the sexists come swarming

I'm piecing a potion
To combat your poison
I'm piecing a potion
To combat your poison
She is risen
She is risen
She is risen boys
I said she is risen

When whiney little boys, wiping the, er, snot off their hands start making stupid comments about Tori Amos's filigree and about how she's spotlighting something other than piano this go round, it's time for your uber critic to bare her claws.

This is what's wrong with music critics today. They can't talk about an album, they have to speak of a history and the truth is they don't know what they're talking about.

In case you missed the last round of reviews for an album by Tori Amos (Scarlet's Walk), let me inform you of the 'conventional wisdom' most critiques carried: Tori's returned to piano! It's just like Little Earthquakes!

No, it wasn't. But they put forth the lie as truth because, hopefully, they didn't know any better.
Now we see the latest spin.

Jon Pareles (who spent years embarrassing himself at Rolling Stone) weighed in Monday on Tori's album:

Tori Amos has been settling down lately.

Has she? What's your basis Jon?

She has cut back on her fluttery vocal leaps into the high register, her busy classical piano filigrees and her most abstruse verbal free-associations.

Filigrees? Kind of a dainty word, one might infer your mocking her in a way you'd never dream of doing to any number of male keyboard players. As for cutting back on vocal leaps, what album were you listening to? But the "fluttery" term is rather cute if you're trying to win Sexist of the Month. (Warning, you've got a lot of competition with the defenders of Lawrence Summers, so even you may have to up the wattage!)

On her new album, "The Beekeeper" (Epic), she offers something like a straightforward love song in "Sleeps With Butterflies," thinking about a lover who is flying off somewhere and promising, "You say the word you know I will find you/Or if you need some time I don't mind."

A straightforward love song is your idea of what Tori needs to do? Obviously since it's the first song you highlight. Does she need to do a love song, straightforward or otherwise, because she's a woman, Jonny?

[And note to the Times, your lousy punctuation is not only confusing, it's dated. Someone needs to update your style book. Using the same punctuation for a song as for an album shows a lack of respect for music. But hell, the majority of remarks you publish on music show a lack of respect.]

"The Beekeeper" is a generous, even overstuffed album, 19 songs and 79 minutes long, with an elaborate scheme involving six "gardens" of songs inspired by the six-sided cells of a honeycomb.

Overstuffed? Again we're looking at wording that would never appear in a review of a male performer written by Jonny. But it's his way to clue you in that Tori's good . . . for a woman.

This isn't a review of Tori Amos or her music, this is a ruler slap from big bad Jonny who wants to make sure Tori knows her place. He concerns himself with word collages (gee, didn't Jim Morrison do those?) and other nonsense and never shows any evidence that he grasps the album he's listened to. He's far too busy trying to put the album into a context but fails miserably because he has no grasp of what Tori's done before.

She's a girl
Rising from a shell
Running to spring
It is her time
It is her time

Barry Walters in a review that appeared in Rolling Stone doesn't care for the album but at least he has a grasp on her past recordings when he attempts to offer perspective. For instance, while Jonny thinks that Tori's stepped away from the piano for the first time, Walters offers:

The title track brings back the flattering electronic sounds we heard on 1998's From the Choirgirl Hotel, and "Original Sinsuality" hearkens back to the harrowing starkness of Little Earthquakes.

Oh yeah, Choirgirl. Funny how Jonny's such an expert but he's completely unaware of that album or, for that matter, the disc of studio recordings (the other disc in the two disc set is live recordings) on To Venus and Back? Or that he missed Strange Girls, Tori's album of covers.
It's strange, isn't, that something that began on Tori's second studio album (Under the Pink) has somehow escaped his expert attention?

Jonny is killing a love for music, not fostering it and he needs to be called to the carpet.

I don't I don't know why
In your Boys life you become like a bull in a china shop
Smash it up into smithereens
There you
There you go again
Breaking porcelain

His review style on Tori's album is not unlike that of a man who beats his wife, a little praise, a slap from nowhere, a little praise.

This is his way of covering all his bases. (And working out his own sexual dysfunctionality.)

And he's not alone on that.

Walters doesn't like the album. That's his opinion. But he doesn't try to play the "on the one hand, on the other hand, on the one hand, on the other . . ." crap until he comes off like some
useless male copy of the Devi Durga. (Walter's also doesn't come off like a sexist with his own personal agenda/issues to work through.)

What's to generate passionate in a review like Jonny's?

I did a thing before about how the people killing the love for music were bad reviewers and Jonny's one of the worst. He wastes time posing as an expert on Tori's music when he's not (and he could get away with that at most publications but he's truly found a home at the New York Times which allows know nothings a greater say simply because there's no one on staff editorially that knows anything about modern music). When not posing as an expert, he's passing himself off as Durga with his many hands on various arms apparently.

Tell me who gets inspired by that crap? That's not fostering an appreciation for music, that's not fostering an appreciation for the truth. It's reduced an album (a passionate one from a passionate artist) into a lab dissection done by a clinician with all the life of the stereotypical undertaker.

It leaves you cold. Jonny's the king of salt peter, folks. Always has been (check out his reviews for Rolling Stone sometime). Walters truly doesn't care for the album and some won't. But Walters says so in straightforward language without the bitch-slaps an abuser like Jonny so enjoys.

I want you to look at the reviews you come across because I really think that's disturbing at this late date. See which males mock and ridicule Tori's feminine art with what words. (And look for the Queen Bees as well -- women eager to prove that they can jerk it with the big boys.)

And there will be men and women who don't care for art. That's fine. It's art and we won't all respond the same way. But I'm not asking you to look for disagreements, I'm asking you to look for bias. Like when you come across the an attitude that if she's do "straight forward" songs like everyone (male) else, there'd be no problem. In other words, see if the critic is reviewing the album or making a statement on how women should make art because there's a world of difference between the two.

In album reviews, sexism can still be paraded and here comes Jonny to lead the charge.

And looking at the Sunday paper, Dwight Garner has his back! Dwight's terms in his brief Tori review?
"flightily melodramatic";
"Glinda the Good Witch."

It must be great sport for Dwight to mock a woman so openly, maybe helps him get over all those school yard taunts inflicted on him as a child named "Dwight." And little prefaces to his "work" in Salon like "straps on his reading jock" probably tell you more about how hard he's working it to prove his masculinity then anything I could write here. Although some might argue that was tongue-in . . . Well, I don't even want to think about where the tongue went on iddy biddy Dwight.

Lucky me
I guessed the kind of man
That you would turn out to be
Now I wish that I'd been wrong

Tori's in the same situation with this masculine thinking that Stevie Nicks (among others) was before. Stop writing about what interests you! Write something straightforward! Think like a man! Of course, the same critics wet dreamed over Lindsey Buckingham for years and the simple facts are Stevie Nicks had a successful solo career and Lindsey never had anything. Even within Fleetwood Mac (where he largely spent his time reworking old Mamas & the Papas hits); he never achieved the success of Stevie. Or for that matter the success of Christine McVie (kids, Linsdey didn't write "Don't Stop," Christine did).

But, they'd argue, if she'd just write like Lindsey, or better, sing Lindsey's songs, she could really go places. That's what the reviewers implied repeatedly with Stevie. Okay, kids, tell me who's known and who's a footnote? Tell me who made a career and who never found fame outside of the ravings of sexists who couldn't deal with the fact that the two most talented writers and singers in the Big Mac were women?

Lindsey, coasting on a fourth of the talent of Glen Frey, never really made his splash. Stevie Nicks made history. Yeah, she's hit the brick wall all women hit if they live to a certain age, but she's an iconic figure of the '70s and '80s, something that can never be said of Lindsey.

This bullsh*t has to stop. It should have stopped long ago. And the supposed progressive New York Times should be embarrassed and ashamed of themselves for a double assault on Tori Amos this week.

"Hoochie Mama" is a stand out track which finds her playing with her voice (as Jonny notes) just as she did on "Professional Widow" (something that slips Jonny's mind apparently since he doesn't note that). It also has a wonderful descending line that repeats throughout.

Yep, Tori's music. Something left out of Jonny's review as he quotes lyrics. (I can read a lyric sheet as well. I honestly don't think that quoting one means I've done the work entailed to discuss an album. Jonny feels differently.) Also of note is the drumming on "Marys of the Sea" which is the perfect example of prosody (it's a term, Jonny, look it up) as the song goes from a narrative of an individual speaking to an individual dancing. Check out the pensive quality to the music and Tori's vocals in "Toast" (the perfect marriage of lyric to melody).

"Parasol" opens the album and it's worth noting that Tori is one of the more physical performers/writers. That's often noted in concert reviews, but it's true of her approach to recording music as well. With "Parasol" she's stepping slowly into a vision (one Dwight and Jonny will never be able to conceptualize) and then she's quickly swept into it. (As is any listener up for the journey.) Scarlet's Walk was a spiritual journey through America. See if you can figure out for yourself where The Beekeeper takes you.

"Sweet the Sting" has a stuttering to it (lyrically and musically) underscoring the mating dance we all engage in. When Tori sings of "breathing" her voice climbs those "fluttery notes" Jonny thinks she's given up on.

(Getting the impression that Jonny just scanned the lyric sheet? Me too.)

"The Power of Orange Knickers" is a key song to understanding the album (and the journey). Maggie got that straight away. Dak-Ho took forever to grasp it's importance to the central concept of the album and Iwan swore he'd never speak to me again if I provided a road map to the journey. So if you're confused when listening to the album, I'll just recommend that you listen to this song repeatedly until the point seeps in.

I'll footnote "Jamaica Inn" by telling you to listen to "Josephine" off Venus (think in terms of the relationship between Stevie Nicks' songs "Dreams" and "Outside the Rain"). "Barons of Suburbia" finds Billy and the Christian boys of "Precious Things" all grown up as well as the narrator who no longer has reason to run.

And "Sleeps With Butterflies" is a statement of purpose, an announcement of a transition ended. (Surprisingly, or maybe not, Jonny sees it as a love song.) "General Joy" (which follows "Sleeps With Butterflies") puts the manifesto into action. (The vocals and music may remind you of "In the Springtime of His Voodoo" -- I don't think that's accidental.) "Mother's Revolution" especially ties into the previous two songs.

Word collages may be hard for Jonnys to follow. I find Amos's lyrics straightforward. I think the ease or struggle you have "decoding" it may have to do with your artistic background and your appreciation for art.

"Cars and Guitars" deserves special note because Tori's left the "Taxi Ride" and is taking control of the wheel and it highlights some of the best work by the band on the album. It also showcases those "fluttery" vocals that Jonny claims are missing.

So what we've got here is a pretty major statement from a major artist and the Jonnys are pouting because they weren't spoon fed. Maggie calls this the ultimate drinking album. But if you know anything about Maggie, you know that any good album becomes the ultimate drinking album to her. So I ask Iwan who's fairly straightfoward (in a non Jonny way) what he thinks.
"The album rocks." Did he catch the journey, does he grasp what Tori's singing about? "Huh."

And the point of that is not to embarrass Iwan but to note that you can get into this album even if you're not able to decode it. Toni likes the "rhythms she's using." Sumner smirks at her and she makes a comment about feeling like she's on American Bandstand's rate a record before falling silent.

There's a message here and it's worth hearing. And maybe you'll get it and maybe you won't. But the music alone is enough to provide you with enjoyment. Of course if you're used to the simple-minded Disney kids (who try to clobber you with repetition) and are still stuck on reflecting on that first crush (regardless of your age), this probably isn't for you. But take heart, there will always be someone to fill the world with silly love songs (straightforward or not) and
if art and passion don't figure into your musical trip, I'm sure you'll find many selections at your local Wal-Mart that will speak down to you.

Thought I heard you
Whispering murder
Thought this witches
Brew was more than
But words are like guns
When you shoot the moon