Review: American Doll Posse

Tori Amos has always had something to say, but it is usually hidden in cryptic prose and left up to the listener’s imagination to interpret. Now in her mid-40s, the outspoken American songwriter has been releasing albums for over 15 years and has never managed to break into standard radio play. Her latest, American Doll Posse, builds on the success within her rabid underground following but it won’t further her mainstream popularity.

American Doll Posse comes off as an eccentric ploy for album sales to non-fans—and is a sure favourite for Amos-addicts. The retail album special package edition includes a number of perks to entice consumers to purchase rather than download. Along with the 23-song CD, bonus visual DVD and pack of Amos-image postcards, a 34-page booklet explains the five different roles Amos personifies throughout the album: Tori, Pip, Clyde, Isabel, and Santa. These characters share the vocal duties on the diversified tracks, and each personality has a unique appearance and form of expression (something similar to what she did for the 2001 covers album Strange Little Girls).

“Yo George” starts off the album, a blatant plea to President George W. Bush. Amos, in her blonde, rebellious Isabel incarnation, does nothing to mask her disdain for the president, singing that America is stuck with the “madness of King George…you have the whole nation on all fours.”

The first single from the album, “Big Wheel,” is a honky-tonk danceable number. Except for the midway breakdown, where Tori proclaims she is a “M-I-L-F, don’t you forget,” the clapping beat throughout the song makes it difficult for listeners not to tap their feet.

Clyde, Amos’s brunette manifestation, is the most artsy of the bunch, and it shows in the songs credited to her form. “Bouncing Off Clouds” is Amos at her dramatic best, reminiscent of her 1999 album To Venus and Back. It is easy to picture the singer floating through the sky while playing her piano during this upbeat tune. In the booklet, Clyde optimistically states, “All works of art start as potential. Similarly, all relationships start as potential.” It’s that thoughtful nature that shines through in Clyde’s other tunes, “Girl Disappearing,” “Roosterspur Bridge” and “Beauty of Speed”.

The darker and more guitar-driven tracks of the album, performed by the raven-wigged Pip, including “Teenage Hustling” and “Fat Slut,” continue Amos’s tradition of writing in girls and teens as the protagonists (or villains) in her usually abstract lyrics, apparent in the albums Little Earthquakes (1992) and Under the Pink (1994).

The sultry Santa, pictured in tight dresses and short blond tresses, performs the more fun ditties on the record (“You Can Bring Your Dog,” Programmable Soda”) until the last track. “Dragon” ends the album with more of a whimper than a bang, but still manages to round out the set well.

As has always been the case throughout her 11 albums, piano dominates the instrumental accompaniment. Along with the staple Bösendorfer, a few unconventional instruments find their way onto the record, like ukuleles and tap shoes.

Fans will greatly appreciate American Doll Posse, but those unfamiliar with her work might not even make it through the first song. The use of Amos’s alter egos is an interesting idea, but it seems rehashed since Strange Little Girls employed a similar concept.

Amos will undoubtedly continue to capitalize on her aging eccentricities until her fingers grow arthritic and unable to play her piano. She is an acquired taste—those who love her will keep listening until she is on her deathbed but those who don’t understand her now will be further alienated by her blunt behaviour and ever-maturing body and mind.

Intended for the Other Press, www.otherpress.ca.

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