Back in 1994, Q Magazine ran a cover feature – entitled ‘Hips, Lips, Tits, Power’ – showcasing a holy triumvirate of PJ Harvey, Björk and Tori Amos. Over 20 years later, the trio are still going strong, although it’s the former two artists who seem to get the music industry all a-quiver with each new release; a new Amos album just seems to be par for the course.
It seems a bit unfair really, when Amos could easily lay claim to be just as influential as her peers. Acts like Mitski, Waxahatchee and Torres can arguably trace their lineage, lyrically at least, back to Amos’ 1992 debut Little Earthquakes – it’s easy to forget just how startling the subject matter of songs like Me And A Gun and Silent All These Years were back then.
It’s true though that over the last decade or so, Amos’ records haven’t quite reached her early standards. Albums like Abnormally Attracted To Sin, Midwinter Graces and The Beekeeper had their moments but they were overlong and, frankly, quite hard work. Unrepentant Geraldines seemed to signal a return to form though, and Native Invader continues that trajectory.
The lyrical content is the usual mix of the personal and the political. The latter is hardly a surprise, given how the landscape has changed in Amos’ native USA over the past 12 months. Although Donald Trump is never mentioned by name on Native Invader, his shadow hangs heavy over many of the songs, where matters such as environmental destruction, political partisanship and immigration are touched upon, to varying degrees of success.
Yet it’s the more personal topics that devastate – the closing Mary’s Eyes is an affecting ballad about the stroke that Amos’ mother suffered last year. It’s a heartbreaking song, especially hearing Amos sing “Can you bring her back to life” or “She must not see you cry, hide your tears”. Chocolate Song is similarly touching, a gorgeous number about personal conflict and falling back into comfortable things – the chorus of “I don’t hate you, I don’t hate you” becoming ever more haunting with each listen.
Up The Creek has an urgent, inventive quality to it, with Amos’ daughter Tash making her now regular appearance to provide harmony vocals with her mother. “Good Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise” the duo sing as various electronics pulse, strings soar and Amos’ piano rolls all over the place. At the other end of the scale is the opening Reindeer King, which slowly unfolds over seven dramatic minutes and the sad, minimal piano ballad of Breakaway.
As ever with Amos’ more recent albums, it’s a bit overlong and some songs, especially in the album’s mid-section, float by without ever making much of an impression. Bang is the opposite – it’s sonically thrilling but lyrics like “We are all made of stars” and the bemoaning of “Hostile humans who side with their warlords of hate” make it pretty difficult to roll one’s eyes. By the end of the song, she’s simply singing names of chemical elements and any interest has drifted away.
Yet when Tori is on form, she still sounds as vital and exciting as she did 25 years ago. Native Invader might be just another Tori Amos album, but for those willing to explore it, there are more than a few treats to be discovered.