Tori Amos: Native Invader

- Tori Amos has reached her fifteenth album over a near thirty year career, and -if we've learnt anything from the years we've spent together- it’s as enigmatic as you’d expect. Resonances of The Beekeeper (2005) and Scarlett’s Walk (2002) can be found while you are pondering the sixteen tracks on this latest release from the queen of baroque pop, as she’s been anointed. Amos’s ability to subtly re-invent her sound, while maintaining a base of familiarity is a bit of a gift and she’s unpacked a bag of emotions and accompanying sounds that’s got that familiarity and some different diversions that fit on her broad canvas as a creator of pop music with heart and a message.

Native Invader was spawned by Amos’s journey through her mother’s home region of the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. Several of the tracks reference the damage humans are doing, almost wilfully, to the environment (Up The Creek, Bang, Cloud Riders, Benjamin), however her mother’s debilitating stroke during the winter of 2016 pushed Amos to explore other themes as well. The bitter US General Election and the elevation of Donald Trump to the US Presidency rounded out her palette – a society bitterly divided which is causing itself pain, as well as the damage to the environment and the treatment of First Nation peoples - combine for an album of sombre, yet necessary themes.

It's what you’d think you’d be getting – doom/gloom/why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along songs. However, Amos has been here before and knows how to handle her muses. On 2006’s American Doll Posse she openly ragged on George W. Bush, this time the 45th President isn’t mentioned (as if not to give him any power by mentioning his name) but the effects of that election are discussed quite clearly (Wings, Broken Arrow, Breakaway, Russia, Mary’s Eyes).

The album opens with Reindeer King, a sprawling piano underscored emotional journey into the heart of what Amos sees as modern times – a series of unexpected, unforeseen shocks and the reaction by humans to them. However, if you are thinking that this track is the template for the album, guess again. There is a world of difference between Reindeer King and, say, Up The Creek, which brings the listener a range of different instruments and a pulsing, syncopated rhythm which is almost “jolly”, and then you stop and consider the meaning drawn out by the lyrics.

There is a lot of that on Native Invader, the layered musicality of Amos’s vocals with a variety of acoustic and electronic instruments in balance, and the sharpness of the lyrics, which matches the raison d'être that inspired the work. "Sonically and visually, I wanted to look at how Nature creates with her opposing forces, becoming the ultimate regenerator through her cycles of death and re-birth. Time and time again she is able to renew, can we find this renewal for ourselves?"

So, it’s fifteen albums, three years since her last full length work, the Celtic inspired Unrepentant Geraldines. This is an album to ponder and reflect upon the unstable world in which we live. Whether it can assist in pointing to ways of self-renewal, that’s up to the individual listener, however, given the alternative we are living, it appears to be the better offer.

- Blair Martin.


Album Details

Album Title: Native Invader
Artist: Tori Amos
Record Label: (Decca / Universal)