An album featuring nature, politics and chariots pulled by cats can mean only one thing – the ever-prolific Tori Amos has returned. ‘Native Invader’ marks her 15th studio output and once more she has provided a treasure trove of meaning for fans to unearth and enjoy. The only question is, how much does this translate beyond the faithful, or those possessing a degree in folklore or anthropology? Let’s get stuck in.
Gifted with first class musicianship and a voice that could melt a Republican’s heart, a certain quality is always a given when any new Amos material drops. Throughout the years she’s tackled an incredible amount of styles and projects, the past ten alone seeing reimagining of the likes of Bach and Debussy via 2011’s underrated ‘Night of Hunters’, a musical for the Royal National Theatre and a surprisingly solid Christmas album.
For better or worse, the icon follows The Muses 9 for inspiration (well worth a Google), a practice that has provided us with some of the landmark albums of the ‘90s and occasionally bloated concept releases that crossed the twenty-track mark. 2017 sees the muses point the artist in the direction of today’s tumultuous climate — the fallout from the US election, the rise of the Alt-Right, as well as mankind’s general disregard for nature — and she calls for a “militia of the mind” in the face of lies.
With such weighty subject matter, and with some own personal trauma influencing the record, it’s sadly lacking in bite or overall attack. Things get off to an arresting start with the ominous ‘Reindeer King’, a sombre and powerful number that harks back to her masterful work on ‘Under The Pink’. All momentum is lost by the following ‘Wings’, however, an admittedly sultry number harmed by dated production and the same old arpeggio guitar work that has bogged down many a tune since the early 2000s.
Things improve slightly on ‘Broken Arrow’, a more outwardly political song discussing lady liberty all while accompanied by some porno-level wah-wah guitar. 'Up The Creek' marks another duet with daughter Natasha Hawley, some orchestral strikes and electronic percussion not quite gelling but at least proving interesting. Later, the cosmic themed ‘Bang’ with its ‘70s groove and talk of astrology, puts things back on stronger footing once more, creating an absorbing world as only Amos can.
There’s a less-is-more approach on 'Climb', a genteel and restrained track led by what really matters, namely her piano, voice and imagination. It's the kind of tune Amos has regularly managed to produce, and when followed by the following 'Bats' and its busy production, is the kind we'd all prefer to hear. All the talk of devils, angels and desire creates a truly bewitching combo.
The spectral 'Mary's Eyes', an ode to her mother who'd recently suffered a severe stroke, ends things on an emotive high. Raised in a strictly Methodist household, the song explores themes of prayer, memory, and pleas to the Dream King, a creation of best friend Neil Gaiman whose work frequently cameos in hers. It combines everything that her fans love about her work — lush arrangements, a sense of the fantastical and some real emotional heft. It easily stands as one of the best tracks she's produced this century and acts as the strongest reminder that Amos at her rawest is all that's needed to send a powerful message.
Words: Sam Walker-Smart
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