Tori Amos’ strategy seems to consist of studying her detractors’ insults and then exaggerating her flaws to the point of absurdity. On The Beekeeper, her eighth album, she invokes “flaxen hair,” “the night horses and the black mares,” Yaldaboath and “whip lashes of silk on wool embroidery.” She declares that “the sexiest thing is trust” and then devotes a song to ribbons. The liner notes portray her picking flowers inside hexagons.
None of this is surprising or intrinsically negative. After all, Robert Plant has been off traipsing through some sort of extraterrestrial Celtic forest for nearly four decades, and Amos made her career out of overwrought melodrama and ornate, teen-diary poetry. It made for stellar pop music but grew wearisome over the course of five albums. Nevertheless, fans were hopeful that she was broadening her horizons with the internalized dread of 2001’s quasi-cover album Strange Little Girls and the lucent conceptual pop of 2002’s Scarlet’s Walk. Unfortunately, Amos has stalled this momentum with her latest album, forming a sterilized (and poorly sequenced) batch of songs that often seem like self-parodic pastiches and anonymous reproductions.
To add to the confusion, The Beekeeper is one of the strangest concept albums in recent memory, organizing cloistered narrative “cells” or “gardens” (no, seriously), which are in turn monitored by “the Beekeeper,” as played by Tori. Actually, Tori plays every part, and all the parts are identical. As you may have already gathered, this concept is fascinating in that it doesn’t actually explain any of the album’s songs; indeed, it actually further obscures their intent. The real concept holding the album together seems to be the confusion over what the putative concept might be. Or maybe she just didn’t put much effort into the idea. Either way, it’s bizarrely intriguing, particularly since the liner notes configure the songs into six “gardens,” one of which is labeled “Elixirs and Herbs.” None of these song clusters have anything to do with one another, either aurally or conceptually.
The one unifying theme is the album’s sheer tepidity. Infuriatingly, the songs are uniformly well-produced and arranged, adding to the reigning sense of disappointment. The dull ’80s twee of “The Power of Orange Knickers” offers an ambiguous analogy between terrorism and sexual domination, a subject that is only provocative for its incredible banality. What, Tori? Explosions can be used as metaphors for emotional or physical relationships?! Surely no one has ever ventured to express such a controversial opinion before!
The bland inertia proceeds with “Cars and Guitars” as Amos adopts an entirely unpersuasive Springsteen pose replete with vapid electric noodling. “Sleeps with Butterflies” flaunts pedestrian piano swirls and Kravitz-worthy flying metaphors. The song belongs in Macy’s janitor closet, not in our ears. It’s far too Lilith Fair for someone whose prior albums contained intense, evasive and ominous fantasies. There are fleeting moments when this Tori, the one from 1994’s Under the Pink and 1998’s From the Choirgirl Hotel, emerges; “The Beekeeper” and “Goodbye Pisces” feature chasmal frequencies, sibilant static and piddling electronic palpitations.
Besides these respites, the album has one saving grace: a couple brave forays into sultry R&B. “Sweet the Sting” is a captivating glaze of Hammond funk and Sade-lite cooing. Even better, it describes, rather psychotically, some compound of sweaty phalluses and reproductive juices: “He said, ‘I laid my weapons down with my pistol fully loaded/ a hunted man to my root/ will it end or begin in your cinnabar juice.'” Pick-up line of the year. “Witness” is a cocaine panegyric with porn-lounge verses and condensed choruses of emotional breakdowns and gun-toting witches. “Hoochie Woman” mimics ’60s Southern piano blues with helium-huffing gospel singers and metal handclaps. These songs will undoubtedly startle Amos’ long-time fans; the style is clearly manipulative and disingenuous, a thinly veiled attempt at picking up a new demographic in a beat-obsessed culture. Even so, it’s a breathtakingly fresh sound for Amos, and one that she could fruitfully mine in later efforts. But it would be completely intolerable to sift for these songs amidst the overwhelming tedium.
Archived article by Alex Linhardt
Associate Arts and Entertainment Editor