Someone once said........
'If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.'
Tori's appetite shows little signs of waning but her desire to play on seems to have been unnecessarily constrained of late. Not by her inability to convey the mysteries and complexities of love, she is still a supremely gifted songwriter, but by her seemingly increasing desire to place undue pressure upon herself. Tori Amos remains a fabulously talented, unique and inspirational artist who has composed some fantastic songs over the last twenty or so years. She can be brutally frank and open, as confusing as quantum physics and have the poetic nuance of the Romantics all in the same song. She can write pop, dance, country, folk and rock. She can do what she puts her mind to, and usually with stunning results. She has the talent, that is in little dispute. Why she feels the need to manipulate, suffocate or restrict her work does however frustrate me somewhat especially when you compare it to her previous, less stifled work. You can't play a violin quite so well with one arm tied behind your back, you can't take a penalty as well with your legs tied together and you can't be expected to produce magnificent material if you tie yourself to a song cycle that traces back through four hundred years of previously composed music. She's right in thinking 'This is not a small task'. Yes it may produce some interesting results, throw up some curiosities and enhance or alter some future work but, as unfortunately turns out to be true, it's unlikely to be her best work, however polished, professional and heartfelt it maybe.
Night Of Hunters is Tori's twelfth studio album and her first full length album for the predominantly classical label, Deutsche Grammophon. Having taken up their challenge/proposal to her, to write a 21st Century song cycle based on classical themes, Tori has certainly tried to craft the work in her own inimitable style. The production, attention to detail, cohesion and performance cannot be faltered. The string sections veer between merely exquisite to perfectly sublime. Tori's voice is a crisp and convincing, sultry and sensual or provocative and persuasive as ever and her piano playing has lost none of its trade mark flourishes. There are still tales of love, tragedy and loss told as only she can, and yes there are still horses in there somewhere!
From the opening bassy piano bars of the 'Shattering Sea' the album twists and turns with a drama and a suspense, a tension and teasing that continually stirs the emotions and builds a vivid imagery. The theatrical musical soundtracks of sinister Hitchcock era Hollywood are brought to mind on certain numbers, whilst others achieve there gravitas through the stunningly delivered vocal performances. Some of the more classical and lavishly orchestrated passages are truly breathtaking, especially on 'Star Whisperer' and for this Tori herself should not only be credited with inspirational and spirited musicianship but also for the overall production on the entire album.
Where Night Of Hunters works most effectively is on the tracks that Tori's daughter, Natashya Hawley, has dueted or collaborated with her mother. Upon first hearing her voice on 'Snowblind' you are immediately drawn to the pairing, they are beautifully synchronised in tone, as you may expect, but Tash accompanies her mother in a conversational style almost like a tormented inner voice. Whichever way you choose to look at it the inclusion of Natasha Hawley on Night Of Hunters is an inspired one. 'Cactus Practice' (Think along the lines of a classical re-working of Programmable Soda) and 'Job's Coffin' also benefit from Ms Hawley's not inconsiderable contribution as a foil to her mother's character. Coincidentally, these songs are among the shorter ones on the album which at times could be accused of over indulgence.
Night Of Hunters is complex and interesting, beautifully composed and constructed and certainly more than just another Tori Amos album. The orchestral pieces are delightfully arranged adding both depth and texture with a lightness of touch that never smothers the song. Lyrically and vocally it doesn't disappoint either, it is more that the album as a whole never quite works in its entirety. There are some great tracks, but it is not one of her greatest albums.
It is always a pleasure to hear Tori Amos sing and play. She has an utterly unique voice that is capable of capturing, conveying and sharing the deepest of emotions. Her songs are provoking, challenging and individual and she could never be accused of being one dimensional, blinkered or in anyway limited. She has nothing to prove but continually seems to want to push, she seems never to be content with mere organic progression, for her that is just not enough. In putting such demands on her work she challenges not only herself but increasingly her listeners. Whilst this may be no bad thing, it's always good to experience the unfamiliar, it also means that she seems to be placing an unfortunate barrier around the freedom her compositions can take. In doing so Tori seems to some degree to have harnessed her passion so that it no longer is as expressive as it once was, (In my humble opinion, as one who finds it hard to be critical at all about her work) she needs to shed the shackles of her own making and get back to what she does best, because her best work is ..............truly wonderful.