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Tori Amos takes on larger themes and a larger sound with her new American Doll Posse


By Mikael Wood

"I'm obsessed with women's stories," says Tori Amos, "how they've been able to negotiate what their place is at the roundtable."

No one who's heard a single album of Amos's is likely to disagree with her claim. Since her 1992 breakthrough, Little Earthquakes, the singer-pianist has investigated the social, biological, and political implications of womanhood with an unflinching honesty that's won her both ardent fans and outspoken critics. On her latest album, American Doll Posse, Amos reacts to the current climate in America with musical portraits of distinct female archetypes. "All of these women are different components of a complete female essence," Amos says. "And I'm exploring bringing these different components together in one woman. As every woman begins to do that, then you're dealing with some pretty powerful forces."

Your last album, 2005's The Beekeeper, had a mellow, contemplative vibe. This new one rocks a lot harder. Each record is its own sonic exhibition, and you have to look at them within their context. The Beekeeper was written at a time when I thought things were about to change; that record was about seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, with the dove of peace coming out. When I was writing, I was seeing that people wanted more of a diplomatic approach to problems instead of a confrontational approach.

Things turned out differently than you expected. Because that didn't happen, it was time to say, "Okay, if we're going to take on the patriarchy and its ideology, then what do you do? If it's too loud, turn it up." Sometimes that's the only way that you can hear.

Was that louder, punk-inspired sound your idea for the album right from the start? I can hear all the arrangements when they're coming in my head. I always have; that's how it happens. This is one record where I realized the diversity that the musicians would have to have. Stylistically, everybody would really have to understand how to play this kind of music, even if they weren't brought up on punk music.

These days you live and record in England, which gives you, as an American, a unique perspective on the United States. I wrote this in America - I had to. I have a little beach house in Florida, and I'm there more than people realize. But I keep a low profile. I don't show up anywhere, because I don't want to be observed. I'm the observer, you see. And how can you be collecting your information and studying your subject if the camera's turned on you all the time? That would blow your cover.

What were you watching for?
To see how American women were interpreting what is happening to our country, how we're perceived in the rest of the world. And I was fascinated by what I found. Some didn't really see how it affected their day hour by hour; some did. But the one thing that I felt I had to do was ask myself why so few are doing so little. That's what propelled me.



Tori Amos
American Doll Posse

(Epic)

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Tori Amos has got the blues. I'm not talking about her frequently personal and heavy lyrical ruminations; I'm talking about her latest album. Amos has reportedly said that she wanted to bring out her warrior woman this time, and the bluesy, classic-rock vibe here gives her emotional music the extra kick that's missing from her albums Scarlet's Walk and The Beekeeper. While Amos has focused more on a group format for her recent albums, American Doll Posse serves up raunchier electric guitar and snarling electric slide work in places. That's her Led Zeppelin side coming out, and it imbues tunes like "You Can Bring Your Dog" and "Body and Soul" with an edge that echoes the Little Earthquakes and Under the Pink days without revisiting them. On the flip side, the album also features signature Amos balladry ("Roosterspur Bridge" and the short and sweet "Devils and Gods"), orchestrated pop ("Girl Disappearing" and "Programmable Soda"), and even an Italian-flavored acoustic number ("Velvet Revolution"). American Doll Posse tells stories from the lives of five different female characters but without as many cryptic lyrical references as have permeated many of her albums. Even though Amos has always been an artist with something to say, her last couple of albums seemingly fell into a stylistic rut, something that the 20 tracks encompassing American Doll Posse escape from, allowing the enigmatic singer-songwriter more room to roam. She's working from a wider palette of sounds and styles here, and the music swings and rocks more. If this is Amos's inner warrior at work, she's unleashing a hearty battle cry. - Bryan Reesman