Sunday, May 20, 2007

Kat's Korner: Tori wades in

Kat: Tori Amos new CD is entitled American Doll Posse and spans 23 tracks on the 'deluxe edition' I got. 'Deluxe edition' because for some reason, had I bought the standard version at Borders, I would have been able to download an additional track. I bought the 'deluxe version' at Borders and, for some reason, that option wasn't made available. The standard version is not only cheaper, it was also on sale. Thanks, Tori. It's the follow up to The Beekeeper.

So what do we have? We've got a sprawling album in which Tori has created five different characters who 'speak.' Given two months and a wine on tap, I would explore that in depth. I'm not attempting to suggest it's not worth exploring, I am noting most won't pick up on the characters immediately. Maggie just now figured out the theme of Boys for Pele.

That is not to sneer at the ambitions of this project, that is to note the ambitions aren't going to sell it in the album's immediate shelf life. What people want to know can be divided up into a few simple questions: (a) Is it worth listening to?, (b) Does it rock? and (c) Am I going to like it?

For the bulk of community members, the answer to all three is "yes."

You don't need to grasp every individual character in the Doll Posse to enjoy the album. Trading cards are included of Tori, Pip, Santa, Clyde and Isabel but no homework is required to enjoy the album. What it actually reminds me of is Donovan's A Gift From a Flower to a Garden. I hesitate to even note that because someone's going to rush off and purchase Donovan's CD and then complain.

Like Tori's latest, that was an ambitious album for Donovan. A double disc set (it fits on one compact disc easily -- the total music time is less than seventy minutes) that came with elaborate packaging in the vinyl edition is now released with a crappy CD booklet with writing so small, you may find yourself reaching for a magnifying glass. Whatever format music is distributed in thirty years down the line, you can be sure most of the packaging for American Doll Posse will be left out. So I'll leave it to others to pose as insta-experts on mythological archetypes, music, allusions and illusions.

Lyrically and musically, Tori's got the blender out. Whether, for instance, the Annie Hall allusion will float over heads or not, I have no idea. But it's not going to be a selling point. As with the five characters, if you get it, you'll enjoy it.

A casual listener will grasp that Tori is grappling with the feminine and how it fits into the violence that characterizes so much of today. The first track finds Tori addressing the Bully Boy:

I salute to you Commander
and I sneeze
'Cause I have Now
an Allergy
To your policies, it seems
Where have we gone wrong America?

Tori addressed Poppy Bush years ago in "Sweet Dreams." She explored the fabric of the country in Scarlet's Walk and, in "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" (Strange Girls), she offered a testament (and testimonials from the Bully Boy, et al) to the violence of this administration. It's fitting that she opens the album putting the spotlight on the Bully Boy because the issues being addressed go to the 'culture' at the top of the chain.

That's as true whether she's addressing the hatred aimed at a woman in "Fat Slut" or whether she's tackling or the judgements imposed in "Body and Soul." What may stand out the most thematically in all the lyrics is Tori's not running. There's no "running after Billy" here. In interviews, Tori's stated that Little Earthquakes represents the personal as political and that American Doll Posse represents that political as personal. That's probably the best explanation for the most basic point of this album: Tori's spoiling for it to be brought on.

Devils and destroyers, bring it on, because you do not the strength inside of a woman. Years ago, Stevie Nicks used to perform in concert with her arms outstretched, not in that "Jesus Christ Pose" understudied by so many males (including Chris Cornell in Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" video) but as if she were about to take flight. Listening, I can picture Tori with her arms outstretched as well, fingers wiggling in the music that's really breathing.

Each album brings a break through for Tori and on this one it's probably the music which is textured more than layered (the better to run your fingers through). She's the seductress. Bring your worst weapon, boys, she's tapping into the sexual power you've never even dreamed of. I use the Stevie Nicks comparison for another reason as well. "Storms" is a highly sexual song but, as a woman, you're not bowing your head in embarrassment. Madonna's trekked out one Girlie Show after another to the point that we may have forgotten that sexuality is not a pose. Madonna wants to titillate, Tori, for all the characters shuffled through on this CD, isn't playing. She's firmly anchored even when undulating on a wave of pleasure.

Possibly, it's this ownership of one's own sexuality that's led to the banning of "Big Wheels" on some radio stations due to Tori's line: "I'm a M.I.L.F. don't you forget." At least one station that's banned the song for "M.I.L.F." is happy to spin DL4's "Bubblegum." Apparently, Tori owning her sexuality is much more frightening to some male programmers than a bunch of little boys singing about a woman's vagina? Or maybe those lyrics sailed over their heads but Tori's a known quantity who must be heavily surveilled?

M.I.L.F. stand for "Mother I'd Like to F--k," the f-word is not used in the song. "Bitch," however, is among the many words appearing in the 'kids' song "Bubblegum." It's semi-surprising the prude police are having conniptions over Tori while playing the usual sexist crap they regularly squeeze between an overabundance of commercials. But Tori's not teasing. She's Lilith, she's Artemis, she's primal. From that strength, she's inviting the world in, saying bring your best, bring your worst. As you do, she cautions to remember that "you can't seduce seduction" ("Almost Rosey").

The album proper ends with "Dark Side of the Sun" which features:

How many young men have to lay down
their life and their love of their women
for some sick promise of a heaven
Lies go back now to the garden
Even the four horses say all bets are off
we're on the dark side

The deluxe version then features three more tracks. "This is your posse bonus cause I li-i-i-ke you" is stuck in my head. It's a light, springy melody. Leading into "Smokey Joe" which will give those a titter over "Big Wheels" something to pee their y-fronts over. It's followed by the delightful "Dragon."

The political is personal is the argument Tori's making this album. It's a huge artistic statement to support the argument and it works. Musically, lyrically, vocally, this is an intense and amazing album. Provided you don't have a CD player by RCA, you'll listen to this CD nonstop. (Maggie has an RCA and some days American Doll Posse plays and somedays it doesn't. I've had two e-mails from community members making the same complaint.) The deluxe edition contains a DVD. I haven't watched it. I'm not into homework anymore than most people. What matters is does American Doll Posse work musically and the only answer to that is a loud "Yes!"

Well, maybe a loud, "Hell yeah!" Robert Plant wishes his name was on this CD.

Toni loves the CD (her favorite track is "Girl Disappearing") but she wondered, "Can the eternal waters and archetypes pull us out of this illegal war?" Then, noting the Congressional Democrats own refusal to do so, she answered her own question: "Couldn't hurt." And it won't hurt you one bit to listen to a real artist making music at a time when real art has largely gone into hiding.