November 7, 2002

Seeing Red

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There is a definite sense that Scarlet’s Walk is a lot more than just a routine album for Tori Amos. On the outside, the artist’s seventh full-length venture is a concept album based on her travels around her homeland, America since 9-11. But under the surface, this 18-track masterpiece has been a quest to recapture Amos’ own musical identity.

It would not be harsh to say that many long-term Tori Amos fans were waiting with tentative excitement for Scarlet’s Walk. Her last two releases revealed, at times, a different side to her quasi-worshiped persona. 1999’s To Venus and Back dabbled in the dangerous waters of electronica, but gave just enough trademark piano to keep fans happy. Her cover album, Strange Little Girls (released in 2001) included versions of Eminem’s “97 Bonnie & Clyde” and Slayer’s “Raining Blood,” creating an interesting yet peculiar album.

With Scarlet’s Walk, however, classic Tori Amos is on show and the Tori Amos fan base can release its collective lip from the vice of its teeth.

The album is indeed a journey, and each song is its own chapter in the story of her travels. The first single off the album, “A Sorta Fairytale” has all the hallmarks of a simple “perfect day” story, yet the song is an illustration of Amos’ complexity as a songwriter. By encapsulating her whole world into one day, “Fairytale” has a sense of such lucidity that is almost magical on Amos’ part.

Similarly the album’s end sets the sun on another episode of Amos’ life with “Gold Dust,” a song that both summarizes what we have just heard (“sights and sounds pull me back down another year, I was here, I was here”) and looks onward with an educated skepticism (“we make it up as we go along”).

One of the most interesting aspects of Amos’ music, that is certainly evident in Scarlet’s Walk, is that she is as much a musician as she is a lyricist. Take all vocals out of the equation and what you are left with is an enchanting set of movements that tell their own story. If her words paint a picture of what she saw along her way, her piano translates her emotions. The moods Amos conjures on her beloved instrument are so clear and plentiful on each song, ranging from the mysterious “I Can’t See New York” to the happy-go-lucky jig of “Wednesday” — the latter of which is pleasantly reminiscent of “Happy Phantom” from her debut, Little Earthquakes.

Conversely, remove the music and you get a heart-emptying confession from a physically and spiritually traveled artist. It could be suggested that Amos’ following is so entirely dedicated to her because of the way in which it feels she is whispering each song into your ear. Across seven albums and ten years Amos has sustained a personal touch in her sound that is impossible to ignore.

Picking the album’s “best songs” seems almost against the nature of the work in that each is piece of linear jigsaw. That being said, if you were to hear any number of songs removed from the album many would be worthy of that title. “Mrs. Jesus” is exceptional even by Tori Amos standards. Flute is added to the ever-present piano in a witty commentary of an ever-questionable-yet-relied-upon religion, which makes for a song that leaves you questioning how on earth she translates such ideas into tangible material.

Aside from the songs, another perk of the album is that it unlocks a special part of the official website, called Scarlet’s Web, when placed in the CD-ROM. For the cyber-fan this allows you to access all sorts of features that the cheats who download the album do not get their undeserving hands on.

Yes, go out and buy this album. It’s not that the artist in question needs the money; it’s not even a question of deserving the money. It’s not that often an album of this caliber comes around, but when one does you are only cheating yourself by not buying it.

With Scarlet’s Walk, Tori Amos has reaffirmed her stance as one of the world’s most talented popular-musicians. It cannot be said that many contemporary artists have let alone released an album ten years after their debut, but to get even close to the quality of Little Earthquakes after ten years and another 6 albums is truly an astonishing feet. If one thing has become clear with Scarlet’s Walk it’s that this is not a career for Tori Amos; it is her life in music.

Archived article by Tom Britton