By now I'm sure Tori Amos is sick of being compared to, or lumped in with, Kate Bush. "We sound nothing alike!" she would protest, and it's true. But they do have this in common: guys despise their music. Perhaps "despise" is the wrong word: guys can't abide by their music, it's a nails-on-the-chalkboard thing.
This seems to be true even among sensitive, feminist guys who concede that hating Tori Amos and Kate Bush is a black mark on their progressive reps, but nevertheless... they just can't bear the sound of those gal's high-pitched voices and tinkling pianos.
Part of me totally understands. Even though I am a fan of both Amos and Bush, I sort of can't stand them, either. What? Well, it's like this: the intensity and sincerity of these artists is off-putting to me. I think it's mostly their vocal phrasing. Amos is the biggest offender here, as her singing voice is so obviously crafted and those affectations are as annoying as Madonna's fake English accent. Amos and Bush have something in common here with Janis Joplin, I think. Her singing style was so incredibly raw and emotional, many men found it a turnoff. But no one can deny Joplin's power, and the same goes for Amos and Bush.
I deeply love and admire these women and their work. No, I can't identify with the most hardcore Tori fans, you know, the women who make "Tori Dolls" (not to be confused with the eponymous "Doll Posse" of her new album), lovingly hand-crafting these weird dolls and ascribing mystical power to them... nor those who celebrate the "female divine" or whatever in Amos and Bush's work -- not that I'm against the "female divine," (whatever that is, exactly) but what can I say? That's just not what I'm looking for in a pop music superstar.
What I do love about Tori Amos (and I'll just stick to Amos for the rest of this review) is her creativity and her willingness to be annoying, confessional, intense, affected, and all the rest of it -- the male rock critic world be damned. It's really clear that Amos listens to only one critic: herself, and that's truly something to be admired.
But Amos is sort of like Prince: she's too prolific for her own good. What amazes me is that she still signs up with major labels at all. Why would she? She's got everything a musician needs to succeed massively on a global scale: hardcore fans; a great live show; and a well-developed internet distribution setup. Maybe Epic is paying her a LOT of money, but I doubt it. I'm pretty sure record labels don't do that anymore, unless you're Linkin Park.
Still, good for Epic for having the taste to bring Amos into the fold. Her new album, American Doll Posse is getting great reviews -- even from men. It's a concept album of sorts: Amos has divided the album into five personalities, with various songs "sung" by different Amos avatars. They even have their own blogs. All of this might seem totally bizarre if attempted by another performer, but to me, it seems like just another variation on her ongoing theme of women being complex, multifaceted beings. "I contain multitudes," as Whitman put it. That's a good summary of her career right there.
Personally, I find American Doll Posse to be a terrific album in the classic Amos vein -- not really a departure, but notable in its consistency. In this way it's similar to her last great album, 2002's Scarlet's Walk. The songs are varied in their mood and style -- as befits a multiple personality -- but her vocals and piano-grounded foundation keep it all within the Tori Universe. "Big Wheel" is a classic upbeat Amos tune, with its jaunty rhythm and soulful vocals, and so is "Teenage Hustling." She may have made her biggest mark with the slow-paced weepies like "Me and a Gun," but those who've listened to her albums know that Amos loves to rock. In "Big Wheel" she refers to herself as an MILF (look it up). Did I mention she can do a mean Led Zeppelin (and Nirvana) cover, too? (See her EP, Crucify for proof.)
So, does American Doll Posse rock? A qualified yes. I mean, if Rufus Wainwright can be said to rock (and he does, occasionally), then surely Amos rocks way harder. But rocking is not why her fans -- even somewhat conflicted ones, like myself -- love her. No, we love her for her almost garish talent and her obvious flaws. We love her for being human -- on a grand, annoying, beautiful, and -- yes -- divine scale.