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Tori Amos - Abnormally Attracted To Sin CD (album) cover

ABNORMALLY ATTRACTED TO SIN

Tori Amos

 

Crossover Prog

3.73 | 36 ratings

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Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Mmmm....sucked back into Tori's lush world after many years

I had stopped paying attention to Tori about the time her dreadful single "A Sorta Fairytale" began pestering me from various local radio stations. It seemed the magic was gone and that like Rush, she would begin releasing the same lame mid-gear product over and over. So it was quite a surprise when I got this one in the mail and discovered that Tori indeed still has the spark. After three cumbersome concept albums which garnered mixed reviews, Tori has set aside these conceptual works and returned the focus to herself with another "personal" album, to use her word. But "Abnormally Attracted to Sin" (AAtS) is not a return to the "girl and piano" of "Little Earthquakes." Rather it is the confessions and observations of a middle aged woman who is sonically as in control as ever, and the results are both intriguing and for me, heartening.

The sound of the new album AAtS harkens back to the late 90s at times-, seeming to be a combination of elements of the Choirgirl and Venus albums, with just a little bitty shot of Pele. Indeed Tori mentioned that recording the album's sonic construct felt to her a bit like Choirgirl, although the band's touch is a bit lighter here. While present, the band's rocking is toned down in favor of a more sparse electronic aural landscape. Often quiet and bleak it serves well the mature and sad subject matter that permeates some tracks, while on the more joyful material Tori is happy to oblige with her unique humor and the band with some lush and passionate instrumental touches. The piano is sometimes too restrained for me as this is one of my favorite things about Amos, but it is there, along with her amazingly beautiful vocals. It is striking on a few tracks just how well her voice has held up compared to her contemporary Kate Bush. Compositionally, while there are a few moments that are as pedestrian and simple as Sorta Fairytale, the vast majority of the writing here is deeper, more exotic, and much more interesting than that single. Bottom line, most of the tracks sound fresh and inspired to my ear, though not always is the mood upbeat or happy.

The themes of the album cover issues of power, disillusionment, sexuality, and taking stock of one's life. Amos is personal and honest if not always 100% direct, she occasionally uses characters but there is an autobiographical element certainly. She has discussed contrasting the girl who wrote Little Earthquakes with the person she has become. In perhaps the most delicate track ("Maybe California", which sounds like a track from the Pele era) she discusses a mother contemplating suicide and the occasional feelings of dissatisfaction with marriage and motherhood. While the mother in the song is not exactly her, she has acknowledged that the song "doesn't come from nowhere." She claims that while support structures are there for younger women, older women suffer in silence with problems because by a certain point in life one is supposed to pull their socks up. And that is the impression I'm left with listening to AAtS. That despite a great career, wealth, or even a lovely family, one can find themselves surprised by how hard emptiness can be to shake. It's not to say we should all boo-hoo about our lives and be pitied, but the fact is that despite one's best efforts and intentions, modern life can still sometimes deny the promises. In that respect the album shares feelings so well expressed a few years ago in Moongarden's masterful commentary on loneliness, "Round Midnight." I admire Amos for confronting this and not sugar-coating it. Even after all of these years, Tori is unwilling to wear a fake smile. She says things some women (and men) keep inside themselves, and she admits she suffers from the same insecurities we all do.

Some of the highlights include the melodic "Welcome to England" which could very well be a popular single if Tori were still getting airplay. This song apparently tells the story of her husband introducing her to his homeland years ago. "Strong Black Vine" brings in some dramatic "Kashmir" sounding synth-strings and a sexy vocal about saving boys from "their evil faith." Saucy! My favorite track is next, the haunting "Flavor" telling us we must choose fear or love. The vocal here is beyond beautiful, it's soul-soothing, and it's in the "Northern Lad" level of quality and chill-inducing bliss. She then does a 180 from heaviness into the joyful romp of "Not Dying Today" which is kind of like "Happy Phantom 2009!" Only Tori can sing about mortality with such mischief and humor. The stellar chops of Matt Chamberlain (drums), Jon Evans (bass), and Mac Aladdin (guitars) never let her down once---they know intuitively what these songs need and they inject great spice and energy without ever getting in her way. Fantastic example of a "singer-songwriter" coexisting with a backing unit to the betterment of both. After some rockers in the middle, "That Guy" almost sounds like some old fashioned musical show tune, one can almost visualize Tori in the lead role singing about her guy, as a lovely string sections backs her up. The title track sounds a bit trip-hop and later weaves a seductive background very much like the Venus album. "500 Miles" features one of Tori's most catchy pop choruses. "Mary Jane" is a truly kooky dittie like the many oddities found on the Pele album, and it is the album's only track with just Tori and her Bosendorfer. Wonderful old school Tori pining on the subject of everyone's favorite recreational drug. "Starling" features some really odd looped sounds handled by Chamberlain and lovely, understated guitar work by Aladdin. The closing 7-minute "Lady in Blue" is elegant and smoky slow, reminding me of the long slow-burners on the amazing Fiona Apple debut "Tidal" (think Pale September or Slow Like Honey.)

Tori is often criticized for putting out overly long and bloated albums, and I'm usually the first critic to jump on bands for taking 75 minutes when 45 would suffice. But the charge is empty here. AAtS never bores me and contains maybe only one or two disposable tracks. This is a rich and satisfying collection of songs which may be a bit all over the map stylistically, but somehow manage to compliment each other and present Amos as an artist still very capable of creating songs both ethereal and beautiful. They may be too understated or refined for some, but unless you need heavy rocking behind your Tori, I think you'll be fine. And while she may no longer be the young woman frothing about precious things, for an artist getting close to 50 years old, she proves herself to be absolutely relevant, musically interesting, and still damn sensual. I expected very little when I purchased this album, and I came away with a work which goes to 3rd on my Tori list, behind only Choirgirl (her finest) and Pele, and somewhere close to Earthquakes. A bonus DVD in the Deluxe Edition features a "visualette" for each track. The style is laid back and very 60s, as a grainy camera captures Tori brooding and wandering through various haunts. These are for her harder-core fans mostly, and they are more introspective and pleasant than highly linear storytelling documents. Don't think of them of conceptual plot-driven videos, just relax and enjoy the music while absorbing the imagery.

The packaging and presentation of the Deluxe Edition could not be more ambitious. Very nice quality for $16. An outer box with a key hole houses a lovely tri-fold outer sleeve, which holds the CD and bonus DVD in sleeves. The lyric booklet features stunning photography by Karen Collins, placing Amos in an upscale hotel room in seductive and provocative situations. (Hilarious how cruel some people are in discussing Tori being airbrushed in these photos-I certainly prefer her natural beauty myself, but she is presenting photographs here which tie into the music. Were she a man, she would not be facing the extra layer of scorn and nastiness I've seen on the web.) Last is a small bonus poster featuring a different image on each side.

So for early fans who "gave up" on Tori at any point after Choirgirl, "Abnormally Attracted to Sin" is a great opportunity to dip your toe again and find out what Tori is up to these days. If you enjoyed her Choirgirl and Venus eras, you should also enjoy this.

Finnforest | 4/5 |

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