American Doll Posse is Tori Amos's most ambitious role-playing exercise to date. She’s stepped outside the comfort zone of her Bösendorfer piano and seen to it that the boys and girls in the band earn their pay.
As Oscar Wilde almost said, give a woman a mask and she’ll tell you her truth. Tori Amos may have cultivated a stalwart fanbase with the close-to-the-bone confessionals of Little Earthquakes and Under The Pink, but since settling in Cornwall with husband and child, she’s tended to go to war armoured with elaborate concepts and themed albums like the ‘sonic novel’ Scarlet’s Walk, the radical reinterpretations of Strange Little Girls or the gnostic milk and honey suite The Beekeeper.
American Doll Posse is her most ambitious role-playing exercise to date. Browned off with Christian extremist madonna/whore dichotomies, she’s elected to nix notions of the fixed or split self, consulted the Greek goddess pantheon and reincarnated as five distinct personae (Pip, Clyde, Isabel, Santa and Tori). The result? A sort of boho Bratz pack for grown-ups.
More to the point, she’s stepped outside the comfort zone of her Bösendorfer piano and seen to it that the boys and girls in the band (virtuosos every one) earn their pay. The ensemble have risen to the bait, playing a blinder, as the ring-mistress delivers some of the most deftly judged yet chameleonic vocal performances of her career.
The opening ‘Yo George’ is a short piano piece that castigates the commander-in-chief (“Is this just the madness of King George/…Well you have the whole nation on all fours”) but instead of running on the anti-war ticket, Amos is more concerned with insidious right wing infringements on freedom of speech and the pro-choice/pro-life dialectic. In other words, get your feet out of my shoes and your paws off my womb.
But American Doll Posse is the furthest thing from preachy or prudish. If anything, this record’s got a serious set of hips on it. At least half a dozen tunes hinge on old school stripper/R‘n’B burlesque rhythms, and the singer (or rather, her various alter egos and shadow selves) has more than made peace with her inner dirty bird. Check out the ass-wiggling ‘Body And Soul’ and ‘You Can Bring Your Dog’ – this is one sexy MILF of an album.
So, the multiple personalities (or, if you prefer, the decompartmentalised expression of various separate-but-integral identities) translate into an impressive musical range. ‘Big Wheel’ puts church-handclaps in a barrelhouse boogie and retools the melody from Franz’s ‘Take Me Out’. ‘Bouncing Off Clouds’ is a winsome disco track with an achingly fragile vocal. ‘Digital Ghost’ channels both Lennon and McCartney. ‘Devils And Gods’ draws on gorgeous Cornish folk. ‘Secret Spell’ is an 18-wheeled highway song that channels the Rickenbacker magic of The Jayhawks or Tom Petty. Sure, there’s whimsy and melancholy aplenty (‘Programmable Soda’, ‘Roosterspur Bridge’, ‘Mr Bad Man’), but this is the first Tori album that rocks as much as it ruminates. If anything, ADP is every bit as ‘cutting edge’ – whatever that means – as The Fragile (check out the brooding underworld chording of ‘Code Red’) or Pretty On The Inside (the skin and hair flying of ‘Fat Slut’, the insolent kerbcrawl of ‘Teenage Hustling’ with its bruised but brazen refrain of “I’ve been workin’ it since I’z fourteen”).
Imagine an amalgam of The White Album, The Kick Inside and Professor Longhair, all conceived as an off-Broadway extravaganza directed by Julie Taymor. Tori Amos is a very interesting bunch of women, and American Doll Posse a heavyweight piece of work.
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