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Tori Amos - Gold Dust (Album Review)

Monday, 01 October 2012 Written by Simon Ramsay
Tori Amos - Gold Dust (Album Review)

There's always a sense of dread when artists revisit their past work. Great songs capture an artist's mental and emotional perspective at a particular point in time, and that original intent is inevitably lost when they're reworked years later. Enter flame haired piano spanking Goddess Tori Amos, intent on bucking the trend. As one of the most idiosyncratic and eccentric musicians of her generation the thought of Tori revisiting her back catalogue is intriguing. Especially when said songs have been reinterpreted with a concert Orchestra. The result, however, is a surprisingly conservative affair that on the one hand gives so much, but on the other could have been so much more.

ImageWith songs discussing sexuality, religion, mortality and abuse expressed through a cornucopia of styles the quirky American enchantress has constantly pushed musical and lyrical boundaries. In 2010 she played the first orchestral concert of her career alongside the Metropole Orchestra and last year released 'Night Of The Hunters', an entire album of classical compositions. Those experiences inspired 'Gold Dust', a reworked compilation of Tori classics backed by the aforementioned Metropole Orchestra and released to commemorate the 20th anniversary of her stunning solo debut disc 'Little Earthquakes'. On the unenviable task of choosing which tracks to include Tori opted for ones that formed a personal narrative, describing them as being "a collection of new studio recordings of where they are now and who they have become".

Anyone fearing their favourite songs might be eviscerated can breathe a little easier. The material is lovingly handled and the orchestration compliments and heightens the spiritual elegance of Tori's compositions. None more so than 'Flavor', where the original's programmed beats are replaced by an exceptional arrangement of opaque, otherworldly strings desolately weaved around Tori's haunting lost-in-space vocal. 'Cloud On My Tongue' is equally enhanced. Gentle ivory tinkling segues through a twirling lullaby into a soul soothing melody as the orchestra answers Tori's declaration of 'you're already in there' with a rosy sunset glow. 'Precious Things' angst ridden tale of burgeoning sexuality is given a charged makeover too. Frazzled strings lead into that eerie piano motif - straight from a John Carpenter horror flick - whilst forceful, swaying orchestral bursts intensify a chorus full of brooding pubescent melodrama.

'Star of Wonder' becomes the seasonal epic it always threatened to be as grandstanding horns infuse the track with a towering regal grandeur. And 'Jackie's Strength' could be played on a washboard and remain gorgeously moving! It's mesmerising to hear Tori approach the song at this point in her life. Whereas initially sung from the perspective of a woman about to marry an unfaithful man, this interpretation finds the same character looking back with a sense of nostalgia. Swooning strings and a sage vocal delivery instill a widescreen sense of romantic reflection, suggesting a painful memory now transcended.

In spite of the album's undoubted qualities, any bold as brass reinvention is sadly missing. Structural changes are limited, the songs subserviently adhere to their templates and the most interesting aspect is Tori's fresh take on her vintage narratives. For example, there are few tracks as moving as 'Winter' and 'Gold Dust'. The former remains faithful to the original orchestration but is tonally different, with Tori's singing and piano melody sounding sweetly wistful instead of disturbed and desperate. The title track, whilst still a tear inducing plea to appreciate the moment, is an exact recreation of the previous version's wholly acoustic blueprint. Again, there's a friction missing from her voice, sung by a wise old owl who has vanquished her demons, rather than by the troubled young girl who needed to expel pain and sadness. 'Silent All These Years' follows the same pattern, and whilst the middle eight is wonderfully reworked with angelically excellent harmonies vibrating with Kaleidoscopic bliss, the rest of the track is unaltered. You get the feeling these songs were included by popular demand, rather than out of artistic necessity.

The sole structural gutting comes on 'Yes, Anastasia'. It's the only times she takes a hatchet to her work, although it seems more to do with economy of length rather than creative inspiration. The original's sprawling first five minutes are gone, instead beginning with a bombastic fanfare reminiscent of an historic David Lean Oscar winner. It dazzles courtesy of unbridled power and a joyous stylistic shift that has Tori Pirouetting around her piano like a gleeful pixie accompanied by waltzing violin flourishes. Purists may dislike this truncated version, but emphasising the main melodic passages does make it easier to digest.

There's also a few strange selections song-wise. 'Programmable Soda's oompa lumpa whimsy is pleasant, but it's inclusion baffling. 'Snow Cherries From France' was a new track on her 'Tales Of A librarian' collection, but reflects the saccharine blandness that marred her early post-millennial work. Whilst both 'Girl Disappearing' and 'Marianne' offer nothing new, making you wonder what would have happened if she'd been a little braver and brought out songs like 'Past The Mission', 'Leather', Spark', 'Cornflake Girl' and 'Cruel' for the orchestra to feast upon.

Tori's fans will be delighted with this album, and with good reason. It's not flawless, but for the most part she pulls off the newly recorded material with grace, beauty and an enduring sense of what makes each song tick. It's a treat for those who prefer her earlier, more straightforward piano based albums over the experimental efforts and rambling concept pieces. However, it doesn't scratch the nagging itch that an opportunity to do something artistically striking has been missed, something she never shied away from in the past. It's as if the material is too precious to her because the songs are essentially beloved offsprings. That's the catch 22 being so close and therefore unwilling to perform any major correctional procedures. After all, what sane parent would force their child to undergo cosmetic surgery!

'Gold Dust' is released today, Monday 1st October via Deutsche Grammophon. Tori will perform at London's Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday 3rd October.

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