mon 29/11/2021

Album: Tori Amos - Ocean to Ocean, review | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Tori Amos - Ocean to Ocean, review

Album: Tori Amos - Ocean to Ocean, review

Opening the Pandora's box of grief

Tori Amos: forced to accept who she was

A “sonic photograph” is how Tori Amos describes her sixteenth album, recorded at her home in Cornwall during the spring and summer of Britain’s third lockdown, when, travel, her usual mode of coping with “troubling things”, was not an option. Living in Bude, with her English husband Mark Hawley, their daughter and her partner, she had no option but to “sit with myself and accept where I was”.

“Swim to New York State” is her song of escape, a languorous opening with beautiful sonorities.

For some musicians, a break from the gypsy life was, at least for a time, a novelty. For Amos, the third lockdown was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Time to think, rather than simply do, is always a mixed blessing, especially when profound grief remains to be confronted and processed. Her mother, to whom she was close, had died in 2019 and the pain of loss and the yearning to make sense of it all, to make a connection, permeates an album that unpeels its layers with repeated listening. At first, Ocean to Ocean feels a bit samey, textures and tempos much of a muchness. Then the musical subtleties and nuances begin to permeate your consciousness, like a burst of flavour at a wine-tasting. There’s some beautiful piano playing from the classically trained Amos.

“Since you left/ I’ve been hiding your ashes under the treehouse/ Don’t be surprised/ I cannot let you go” Amos sings in “Speaking with Trees”, a surprisingly upbeat number given its subject matter, and the key to the album. “You only know when you know this/ How you’ll cope with your losses”, she observes. “Feel the loss around you”, she suggests, the better to understand the Pandora’s box of grief which we often hope to keep firmly locked.

“Flowers Burn to Gold” – a profound metaphor for the death of a loved one: “Death is not the end/ Flowers burn to gold” – is another song of yearning and reaching out, of visions and dreams, of hope for… something of comfort, something to hold on to as our world tilts on its axis. It’s the track that sounds most like Kate Bush, beginning (rather appropriately given the terrain) in that little-girl-lost voice that is a Bush trademark, the effect heightened by the singer’s multitracked choral interjections. The song is incredibly delicate, Amos’ undulating piano accompaniment drifting between major and minor.

The slow and bluesy “Devil’s Bane” takes issue with charismatic preachers, perhaps with her father, a Methodist preacher, who was “good at turning me against me”. “Twenty-Nine Years” has a Pet Shop Boys vibe and in terms of its subject harks back to “Me and a Gun” from Amos’s debut album Little Earthquakes. “Birthday Baby”, the album’s closer, is a rallying cry to the sisterhood from a singer-songwriter who, from the get-go, wasn’t shy of taking on the patriarchy: “Don’t be afraid to tango alone/ Bring those killer heels with you/ Sometimes in life a girl must tango alone”, she sings over a slow insistent tango motif and powerful synthesized strings.

Amos plays most of the keyboard parts, with hubbie Hawley on guitar. John Philip Shenale adds an extra touch of Hammond organ, while Jon Evans plays bass, and Matt Chamberlain percusssion, all of them recorded in the US. Ocean to Ocean was mastered at Abbey Road.

Liz Thomson's website

The musical subtleties and nuances begin to permeate your consciousness, like a burst of flavour at a wine-tasting

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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