She likes her concept albums, does Tori Amos. Whether it be an album of covers of songs by male artists sung from a female perspective, or a record about travelling across a post 9/11 America, there’s no such thing as a conventional ‘pop’ album for Amos.
Night Of Hunters is her most ambitious record yet. Described by the lady herself as “a 21st song cycle inspired by classical music themes spanning over 400 years”. And that’s not the end of it. The overall concept of the album explores “the hunter, the hunted and how both exist within us” through the story of a “woman who finds herself in the dying embers of a relationship”. Oh, and a shape-shifting creature figures throughout the album as well.
Still there? Whether you’ll enjoy Night of Hunters is probably dependent on whether you can buy into all this or whether you’ll instantly dismiss it as a load of pretentious old tosh. At 14 songs and over 70 minutes long, it’s certainly not for the faint hearted or easily distracted. Yet for those who are willing to put the effort in, some of Amos’ most beautiful work will be found within.
It’s a world away from previous experiments such as the rocky American Doll Posse or the synths and sample of Abnormally Attracted To Sin. In effect, Night of Hunters is an acoustic album with piano, woodwind and strings all to the fore – nary a guitar nor drums in sight. It’s a sound that suits Amos, especially on the dramatic opener Shattering Sea, with its pretty piano and stirring string section.
Rather like Joanna Newsom‘s last opus, Night Of Hunters is an album that’s designed to be sat down and listened to, rather than dipping in and out of. Tracks like Job’s Coffin and Your Ghost are certainly pretty enough to be singles, but would lose their dramatic impact outside of the album.
The centrepiece of the album, Star Whisperer, is also the highlight. It’s just short of 10 minutes long, but not a second is wasted. This is the most obviously ‘classical’ moment of the album, and a good four minutes interplay between the string and woodwind section, with Amos’ piano weaving all sorts of gorgeous patterns between them, is beautiful to behold.
Another surprise is the appearance of Amos’ daughter, Natashya Hawley, on some tracks. Considering she was just 10 years old when the album was recorded, her voice is staggeringly mature and makes for a perfect fit with her mother’s. In fact, on tracks like Snowblind and Cactus Practice, it’s near impossible to tell who’s Tori and who’s Natashya.
Night Of Hunters is hard work, and certainly won’t appeal to everyone. Yet, after nearly 20 years, the last thing Tori Amos needs is mainstream acceptance – as one of the more inventive and unusual singer/songwriters out there right now, flights of fancy like these should be treasured.