Tori Amos- The Beekeeper (Epic)
review by Joe del Tufo

Track Listing

1. Parasol
2. Sweet the Sting
3. The Power of Orange Knickers
4. Jamaica Inn
5. Barons of Suburbia
6. Sleeps with Butterflies
7. General Joy
8. Mother Revolution
9. Ribbons Undone
10. Cars and Guitars
11. Witness
12. Original Sinsuality
13. Ireland
14. The Beekeeper
15. Martha's Foolish Ginger
16. Hoochie Woman
17. Goodbye Pisces
18. Marys of the Sea
19. Toast

DVD Track
1. Garlands

Tori Amos’ first release since 2002's conceptual piece Scarlet’s Walk is both a triumph and a trial. A triumph because there are moments of elemental beauty here, reaching back as far as her Under The Pink era in terms of emotional spirit and simplicity. A trial at nineteen tracks and almost 80 minutes. Without a thread to hold these songs together, as Scarlet’s Walk arguably did, the listener is left with a challenging experience at best, with many of the disc’s more powerful tracks peppered across this long landscape somewhat arbitrarily. The problem with this is that the album tends to drift quickly into the background, and it takes a concerted effort for its true spirit to be revealed. Perhaps Tori is aware the majority of her fanbase can be expected to make this effort and be justly rewarded for it, but I am left feeling that a more concerted edit and resequencing could have resulted in a much more powerful, if not outstanding, disc.

The first listen is a disappointment. Fighting through the 80 minute blur for something I could latch onto, there were too few moments that rose to the level of Tori’s past greatness. Where was she going with this, and what was she trying to say? It all just came across feeling like, as another nearby listener muttered, Tori Lite. There are a lot of emotions going on here, but unfortunately I’m more often left hearing them instead of feeling them, as Amos has been do adept at doing on previous efforts. But as I gave the disc repeated listens, tracks like The Power Of Orange Knickers, Sleeps With Butterflies, Ribbons Undone, Martha’s Foolish Ginger, Goodbye Pisces and The Beekeeper all lifted themselves to the surface. Lines like “A look in her eye says the Battle’s beginning, from school she comes home and cries, I don’t want to grow up Mom, at least not tonight” and “I cried and I washed my tears that turned into diamond” became waypoints on the journey that was The Beekeeper.

Parasol kicks off the festivities in good form. There is an interesting, perhaps unintended wordplay early in the track where, upon first listen. the line “I haven’t moved since the call came” sounds much closer to “I haven’t moved since the cocaine.” Interesting in that, if intentional, it creates a entirely different and more interesting dynamic for the song. On the surface it’s a track about being emotionally frozen by personal tragedy, and retreating inside to protect one’s self. “If I’m the Seated Woman with a Parasol, I will be safe in my frame.” And indeed it’s a safe opening track- catchy but but lacking an edge.

Jamaica Inn is another interesting track, with perhaps more intended wordplay in the title. Great lines in this one, especially the wisdom of “the sexiest thing is trust.” Using the nautical metaphor throughout this one, Amos questions the state of a relationship- “I wake up to find, the pirates have come.”

The Power Of Orange Knickers, Tori’s duet with Damien Rice is the first real highlight on the disc. Even though Rice is basically talking/ mumbling through his lines, his rich timbre adds a refreshing warmth, and becomes a nice anchor when combined with Tori’s rising delivery. Some great lines in this one- “Shame shame for letting me think that I would be the one” and especially the closing “Am I alone in this kiss?”

Sleeps With Butterflies, for all its gentle ease, is really the standout track on Beekeeper. It is everything that was so wonderful and profound about Under The Pink. It’s entirely contagious, lyrically and visually interesting (“I don’t hold on to the tail of your kite’) and has one of Amos’ best chorus in recent history, the rhythmic “You say the word you know I will find you or if you need some time I don’t mind I don’t hold on...”

In tracks like Witness, Sweet The Sting, Cars and Guitars and Hoochie Woman Tori is attempting a kind of awkward funkiness that comes across as, well, let’s leave it at misguided. It’s not the first time she’s tried it, and it didn’t work then, but it is unfortunately more prevalent on Beekeeper and, for me at least, it just sounds forced.

What is missing for me? Tori has always stood out in two ways: her ability to capture the essence of an emotion with a word, a pause, some intangible subtlety that a discerning listener is sure to catch; second, her ability to wrap that rich message in some unique way: the detuned piano of Bells For Her, the quirky rhythm of Space Dog, the cold fingers of Icicle and the sheer explosiveness of Precious Things, to name a few.

It’s been a long time since Tori has reached back to the emotional purity and elemental simplicity of her earlier work. Indeed there are moments on Beekeeper that recall her Under The Pink era more than anything written since. Surely motherhood creates a different focus for one’s art, and I’d actually like to hear more of its influence in the music. In the places where it is evident, most notably on Ribbons Undone and on the DVD bonus track Garlands (which really should have been included on the main disc), the music seems to exist on another, more profound, plane.

There is a lot to like here. And indeed if we could somehow extract the obvious b-sides and arrange the remaining tracks in a compelling manner, there would likely be something remaining that would rival anything Tori has released since Boys For Pele. In fact, of her previous releases The Beekeeper most resembles Pele- both discs required a journey of attention from the listener, and a willingness to move towards moments of arresting beauty, even as they were drifting through less poignant tracks.  Granted, based on her canon, I hold Tori’s work at a higher standard than most artists and, all things being equal, this is still one of the stronger releases of this year.

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