Do you want to hear a good album? Not a great album, mind you, and certainly the worst one you’ve heard by this particular artist, but one that will stay in your head for a little while and won’t disappoint? It goes a little something like this: Buy Tori Amos’s The Beekeeper. Listen to the following, in roughly this order: 1, 6, 4, 16, 19, 18, 14, 7, 8, 5, 12. Then, a few days later, sample the eight tracks i left off to see if you’d like to trade in anything.
Please, for the love of all that is Tori, just trust me on this one. Don’t do what I did; don’t sit and listen straight through this eighty-minute adventure in mediocrity twice in a row. Because, you will find yourself thinking Tori has lost her edge, or that she put out a terrible, horrid album.
Both of these things might be true, but you don’t need to think them. I thought them for you. I typed 3500 words to illustrate my point. But, much like the disc itself, it was too much of too little. Instead, as i highlighted Tori’s track listing for you, here are some of the hits.
1. Parasol (+)
What is she saying? She is saying “when i come to terms with this.” She is repeating her lines to drive them in. She is sending me a message. Do not rush, she says. Just hang in there.
Maybe it’s a self-preservation instinct. She knows this record will not survive my snap judgement, just like her past records have failed to connect with more mainstream critics. So, now it is my turn, and she is telling me about it in Tori code. She is that painting. Her pleasure is the wall that she hangs on. She has come to terms with it? She is safe in her frame. Will i keep her in her frame?
Come in, Spacedog. I can’t read you.
2. Sweet The Sting (-)
I think this is the song that got all the critics on board. Tori is playing against type; unsuccessfully i say, but perhaps just convincingly enough. The gospel choir here is a nice touch – the opposite of the soothing cushion on “Way Down,” this is the gospel that infused itself into Ray’s sexy strut – the thought that sensuality crosses easily between religious and secular, holy and sex, okay and obscene. Tori has always straddled that line, but here it is so subdued. She’s not challenging us. She is stating. It is a matter of fact.
Frankly, here you can’t see the forest of the possibly sexy composition for the trees, the cracks in Tori’s too-forward voice obscuring what she is even saying. You can’t fault the girl for not knowing how to produce funk, but you can eschew the product.
8. Mother Revolution (+)
This is a good song. I missed it the first time through, maybe because it was a little too slow-moving. I’m sortof a music-critic version of T-Rex from Jurassic Park – you can slip slow ones by me, good or bad, but if you’ve got a song that’s waving a flashlight around like a lunatic and then running into the outhouse i’m going to suddenly become real interested.
Anyhow, this is a good song.
9. Ribbons Undone (-)
Footnote: Tori, you fucking lied in your book when you said you don’t write autobiographically. You can keep telling yourself that, but we’ve all heard Little Earthquakes, and we’ve all heard “Northern Lad,” and now we’ve heard this. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that not every one of your tunes is a fairy creature floating into your head on a filament of light. Sometimes you just feel something and you write a song about your life
Just. Get. Over it.
13. Ireland (–)
In case you were tempted to think that “Cars and Guitars” was the worst Tori song ever, you have to allow me to reset your expectations. This, in fact, is the worst Tori song ever. You can even include the part of Y Kant Tori Read where she raps.
The nearly unbelievable thing is that it’s all a matter of arrangement. Tori is actually playing this wonderful legato organ part that would make the song sound dirge-like if the other instruments would stop freaking harassing it. Maybe i could stomach Tori singing about her Saab if it was in a dirge. But, this is all the kitsch of Ani doing “Wishing and Hoping” with none of the irony.
I just read a review that called this four minutes of perfection. Honestly, i would rather poke myself with something sharp for four minutes than allow this to degrade my opinion of Tori ever again.
14. The Beekeeper (++)
Just terrific – the kind of totally different but totally canonical song i buy Tori albums for. It reminds me of Bjork remixing something from choirgirl. This is the queer epic i wanted from Datura, or Happiness Is A Warm Gun, or I Can’t See New York, but the first time she’s actually delivered the epic goods since maybe as far back as “Yes, Anastasia” or “Little Earthquakes.” And, when Tori says, “I have come for the Beekeeper … can you use me instead” it sends a chill down my spine; “Plugged into a heart machine, as if you ever needed one.”
Where is the album that this was supposed to be the emotional centerpiece of? Three songs this good would be worth the price of admission, so i’d pay about $40 for that hypothetical album.
Hoochie Woman (+)
“Hoochie Woman” is some classic shit. I know it might put you off at first, but hear me out: the thing is, it’s literal and a little bit lame, but it’s so perfectly well done. You might not like it, but like “She’s Your Cocaine” before it, you just shouldn’t bother arguing, because Tori has, finally, strutted all her lounge cred, finishing the kooky lark that began with “Bachelorette,” but in the most spectacularly amusing fashion possible.
The song is written for the Bridget Jones soundtrack. I can see Renee dancing to it in my head. Freaking handclaps and gospel baritones intoning “that hoochie woman” in the background. Yes. Oh, oh, yes.
18. Marys of the Sea(++)
I said i would pay the price of admission for three good songs, and now i can’t ask for my money back. We are adrift into Tori from that first note, and it just feels so right. Maybe i do expect something from Tori … maybe it’s not the piano, or the ballads, or the shock value. Maybe it’s something smaller – the spaces she leaves, or the imaginings she piques. I’m still not even hearing the lyrics on this one. It tricks you into thinking it’s over around a minute in, and then you are meandering in ballad territory for a second. You’re confused, almost lost, Tori’s speaking french. It seems like it’s going to turn into a bad scene. But-then-there-is-a-pound-ing-draw-ing-us-in and we’re roiling again.
Roiling is, in fact, what i love about Tori’s compositions. “Hey!” she says, and it gets my attention entirely, “for now you have hijacked the sun, and last time i checked he came to light the land for everyone.”
Preach it, sister. Buy yourself something nice with that $12. I don’t hold a grudge.