Tori Amos refuses to compromise the intensely personal focus of her work
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Tori Amos restarted the conversation about art and aging as a woman, and the results are illuminating. This debate surges frequently, but female singer-songwriters of Amos’s stature face it perhaps more than others. While men are often revered and considered ruggedly handsome as they grow older, women have to battle the loss of their beauty, and often with it, their fame. Unrepentant Geraldines, her fourteenth album, personifies everything from the concept of trouble to the entirety of the United States, looking at their potential existence as women on “Trouble’s Lament” and “America”, respectively. Amos, now 50, has always been especially adept at transforming her personal life into majestic, surging dramas, and this album is no different.
Unrepentant Geraldines deftly combines her past forays into classical and orchestral music with the theatrics of her and Samuel Adamson’s adaptation of George MacDonald’s The Light Princess, but it’s never too tacky. Instead, the fantastical elements that inhabit tracks like “Maids of Elfen-Mere” and “Selkie” are woven in thick, rich threads, mimicking the structure of epic poems or Celtic story songs. Amos recorded the album in the Cornish countryside with her husband, Mark Hawley, and the album reflects that setting via springy strings, flutes, and lilting jigs. “Wedding Day” feels particularly Celtic, a retrospective on how love morphs with time. Amos has always had a taste for the supernatural and the ethereal, but these stories feel current too, as she folds issues like the NSA’s spying scandal into the doughy story of “Giant’s Rolling Pin”.
Although her lyrics on this album deal heavily in legendary and fictional elements, it also feels like they’re more connected to Amos’ own life than anything she’s written before. The songs that address aging are defiant in their descriptions, and specific enough to seem inextricably tied with her own life. On “16 Shades of Blue”, she addresses society’s marginalization. “You say get over it/ If 50 is the new black/ This could be your lucky day,” she sings, choosing her own current age rather than any other. Later, she speaks directly to those that would criticize: “There are some who say/ I am now too old to play.”
There are also plenty of references to the struggles that plague girls in their teens. Her 13-year-old daughter, Tash Hawley, even makes an appearance, singing the duet “Promise”, a song that offers an intimate look at a mother-daughter relationship from both perspectives. Hawley’s voice has a pop airiness to it, but also an opulence that’s reminiscent of diva-in-training Ariana Grande; based off the strength of her vocal performance on this song, it wouldn’t be surprising if she pursued a musical career of her own. Hawley’s voice, however, covers over the variation in Amos’ own vocal, as she swaps between clear, clean soprano and throatier alto ranges. At 50, her voice hasn’t grown thin or reedy, but it remains powerful, as showcased on the record’s most moving song, “Wild Way”, which turns the lyric “I hate you, I hate you, I do” into an admission of love purely based on tone.
Some artists struggle to reinvent themselves or adopt new fads at this point in their careers, but Amos feels very much like herself on this album, which is certainly part of her question: How does a woman in our society grow into her age gracefully while still demanding the right to be respected as an artist? On Unrepentant Geraldines, Amos does so by issuing art that refuses to compromise its intensely personal focus, in tone and topic. It pushes the boundaries of what we expect from older female artists by sheer force of will, and succeeds by embracing an expansive scope. Amos manages to weave her own mythology into larger fantastical stories, and fight societal norms in the process, all with a fierceness that will please old fans and likely win over new ones.
Essential Tracks: “Wild Way”, “Trouble’s Lament”, and “16 Shades of Blue”
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