As a child, Tori Amos seemed destined for a career as a classical musician. A prodigiously gifted pianist and mezzo-soprano, she had a scholarship at the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Maryland before leaving at the age of 11, apparently, Ms Amos asserts, because her interest in rock and pop music was deemed unhealthy by the Conservatory’s stuffy guardians.
Nearly 40 years later, and with two decades of significant success as one of the most enduringly popular female singer-songwriters of her generation under her belt, Amos has come full circle and re-embraced the genre where she first excelled. This process started with her last album and her first for classical label Deutsche Grammophon, 2011’s Night Of Hunters, but while the songs on that record were often dense and impenetrable, Gold Dust sees Amos revisiting her extensive back catalogue to create something altogether more accessible. 14 songs from her career, selected by the artist herself and arranged by long time collaborator John Philip Shenale, are reworked in orchestral settings to serve up what’s essentially a Best Of with bonus strings and woodwind.
The common link between Night Of Hunters and Gold Dust is the presence of Holland’s esteemed Metropole Orchestra, conducted by Jules Buckley. With her background, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Amos’s compositions adapt well to the classical treatment, but another reason these reinterpretations generally work well is that Metropole’s classy, understated playing is never allowed to dominate the central elements of the singer’s trademark piano and voice.
Amos’s early songs remain her most captivating and Gold Dust features two veritable classics from her 1992 breakthrough Little Earthquakes, the haunting Winter and the bruised, defiant Silent All These Years. Both songs are blessed with unforgettable melodies and arguably showcase Amos’s combination of Kate Bush-indebted vocals and provocative, occasionally eccentric lyrics better than anything that was to follow. Overall though, this retrospective features a wide range of material from across the singer’s long and varied CV.
Other inclusions range from gems such as Under The Pink’s Cloud On My Tongue, with the orchestra swelling and rising impressively to the refrain of “circles and circles and circles again” to more baffling choices like Star Of Wonder from Amos’s ill-advised 2009 Christmas offering Midwinter Graces. Any artist with a significant body of work to select from will inevitably provoke debate from fans with their own views on what should and shouldn’t have been included, but Amos deserves some credit for avoiding the temptation to make this Best Of a Greatest Hits.
The one big drawback of Gold Dust is the danger it may provoke a‘so what’ reaction, simply because for all of its polish, it doesn’t really take the listener anywhere that interesting. Unlike the Metropole Orchestra’s recent collaboration with Basement Jaxx, which radically revised the Brixton duo’s best-loved tracks into something fresh and new, these versions of Amos’s songs don’t really travel far from the originals. Granted, there’s a lot more room to experiment when melding two styles as disparate as progressive house and a classical orchestra, but nevertheless listening to Gold Dust does beg the question – pleasant as this exercise is, how much does it actually develop or improve what were some excellent songs to start off with?