Tales of a Librarian: A Tori Amos Collection is neither a traditional greatest hits collection (it eschews the smash “Caught A Lite Sneeze,” among others) or a collection of fan favorites (as evidenced by a lack “Cooling”). Instead, it is a collection of twenty songs that Amos considers biographically important. The disc acts as a passable retrospective for newer listeners, but the allure for a longtime Tori fan is not solely the new cuts or the rerecorded songs, but the fact that sixteen old favorite have been remastered.
Aside from an across-the-board reduction on vocal reverb, Librarian‘s “remastering” is as unscientific as its song selection — background vocals are eliminated on some songs and isolated on others, and the balance (and even presence) of guitars is subject to change even within single tracks. Some songs clearly benefit from the remastering. “Cornflake Girl” is chief among these, exploding out of its quiet former context on Under The Pink. Foremost in its improvements is a more prominent piano and a fuller vocal. The vocal arrangement on the “Golden Gun” portion of the song is mixed in reverse, bringing out an additional vocal nearly unheard on the original. Even the theremin-like whistling that opens the track sounds bigger and better.
“Spark” is mixed in the opposite direction, but with equally excellent results. Away from the dense production of from the choirgirl hotel, its layers have been stripped away to reveal a tone much more in keeping with the disconnected feeling it portrays. The edge on the prickly keyboard tone has been eliminated; verses are now dominated not by swirling keyboards and guitars, but by snares and toms that keep the song tottering forward in compound time. Once-obscure background vocals now made clear, and the deft piano work on the bridge is unearthed.
Some songs stay the same not literally, but for lack of significant changes. The half of Little Earthquakes that is present is all louder and closer. Additionally, “Silent All These Years” and “Winter” amp up their orchestral arrangements, while “Crucify” is improved immensely without its overbearing reverb. The balance of the strings on “Baker Baker” is more equal to the piano, which is interesting though somewhat obtrusive. “Playboy Mommy” wisely plays up it’s slide guitar and subtle backing vocals for a better emotional impact, but isn’t distinctively different.
On other songs, the results are more mixed. All the elements of “Precious Things” sound more precise, but its originally menacing atmosphere is sacrificed. “God” suffers a similar fate, less dense and with its background vocals mixed too close to the forefront. Live favorite “Tear in Your Hand” sounds superbly loud and immediate except for a out-of-place voice-over vocal which hijacks its excellent coda for an entire line. “Bliss” is the one track where the reverb is missed; without its obscurity the arrangement is revealingly unimaginative. The slight “Way Down” is exponentially more interesting with a beefed up mix and an extra gospel refrain, while similar Boys for Pele lark “Mr. Zebra” is clearer but still exactly as kooky.
The four new recordings are solid, but not revelatory. “Sweet Dreams” is a weary update of an unexciting original, though “Mary” manages to retread old ground without losing any charm. “Snow Cherries From France,” ballyhooed for years by Neil Gaiman and Tori herself for, is an unassumingly simple tune that would have been more at home on the recent Scarlet’s Walk. “Angels,” though, is a much more congruous evolution — rendering oblique political philosophy alongside Tori obscurity, it fits right in.
Finally, as is typical of most Amos efforts, there is one massive misstep — the popular remix of “Professional Widow” is used in place of the original track, a strange concession to consumers given the fact that a similarly popular remix of “Jackie’s Strength” does not replace the original. The thumping bass and swirling electronics sound vastly out of place in an album of sweetened vocals and tweaked pianos; in short, it kills the mood.
With over a third of the remastered tracks comprised of remixed Earthquakes tunes, Tori could have easily self-produced a welcome reissue of the entirety of her debut. All of the other revisited tracks here are interesting, but far from essential. Some of Tori’s best sounds even better with age, technology, and some reconsideration; it’s not surprising. On the whole _Tales of a Librarian_ may have taken too many liberties with the balance of songs that Ears with Feet have been listening to obsessedly for years, and its newly produced songs are not even on par with the excellent web-only Bs from Scarlet’s Walk. Tales is a good back-catalogue substitute for new fans, and an unavoidable purchase for fanatics, but otherwise it’s just barely an adequate hits package.