If, like me, the only song you had heard off
prior to its release was the single "Maybe California," then (like me) the first few seconds of opening track "Give" made you whisper a relieved "Oh, thank God. It's not all going to be like that." And it isn't. And that is a very, very good thing. Amos' previous album, 2007's American Doll Posse, marked the beginning of her return to her roots as a bad-ass, weird, experimental rock chick, from way back before albums like 2002'sScarlet's Walk
and especially 2005's multi-layered but ultimately tepidThe Beekeeper
began flirting with adult contemporary.Posse
brought back the rebellious-outsider attitude that attracted legions to Amos in the first place, an attitude which, onAbnormally
, has flowered into a full-on middle finger in the face of what some suspected was shaping up to be a post-childbirth mellowing (Amos gave birth to daughter Natashya in 2000).
The tone of the album lies somewhere between 1998'sFrom the Choirgirl Hotel
and 2000'sTo Venus and Back
-era electronics pop up as a unifying theme, some songs even lapsing into full-on trip-hop, a welcome genre change-up that Amos fits into like it was made for her. Yet just as strong on the album is Mac Aladdin's guitar, which feeds nicely into veteran Amos beatkeeper Matt Chamberlain's re-invigorated drumming. Once known for his uncanny ability to sound like a pre-recorded drum machine, only better, Chamberlain not been given this much room to explore in quite a while, and he proves more than up to the challenge. Overall, Amos' backing band is her firmest, tightest unit sinceChoirgirl
. There isn't a single weak track onAbnormally
until No. 6, which is the previously mentioned, lyrically strong, yet musically mediocre "Maybe California," an over-wrought piano-and-strings number. The piano-and-strings songs were highlights of Amos' albums back in the days of "Winter" and "Yes, Anastasia," but ever sinceChoirgirl
's "Jackie's Strength" have sounded like they have no room left for experimentation, each one sounding all too similar to the next. Luckily, the album locks right back into step on the very next track, "Curtain Call," a creeping, dark number that, like many tracks on the album, keeps the listener off-balance by allowing various instruments to wander in and out of it.
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Other than the occasional weak spot - this album, like all of Amos' post-Epic releases, clocks in at damn near 80 minutes and seems to have included all its own potential B-sides -Abnormally
is the most cohesive album Amos has released in years; indeed, it seems to be the first one since Venus for which she has not felt the need to invent even one alternate persona. She further explores religion, sexual politics, and the fact that temptation is both a blessing and a curse, and it's refreshing to hear Amos' own thoughts again, unfiltered and sung in her own voice with all its quirks and contradictions. Sometimes she wears a knowing smirk, sometimes she's desperately pleading, other times she seems to be laughing openly or despairing quietly, but it's all her, at long last. In the end, that's really what Tori fans have been waiting for: a return to Tori just being Tori, sharing her insights with an open heart and a defiant mind, sprinkled heavily with years of experience in matters of sin, love and personal freedom. Frankly, it's good to have her back.Preview the entire album on Tori's MySpace page or buy it via amazon.com here.