Tori Amos: Ocean to Ocean album review
For nearly three decades, Tori Amos has been one of pop’s most compelling figures, combining an in-depth knowledge of musical composition with southern Gothic accents, otherworldly poetics and a sharp wit. On his 16th album, Ocean to Ocean, it continues to alchimize these qualities in an alloy unlike any other.
In interviews on Ocean to Ocean, Amos said she was inspired by the natural landscapes and dense mythology of Cornwall, the peninsular English county where she has lived since 1999, as well as the loss of her mother, close sightings of her niece of a twenty years, and blockages and chaos that weighed so heavily over the past two years. The resulting album – which she started working on earlier this year, when England entered their third nationwide lockdown – grapples with the heartache and cruelty of the world, and how those things feel both cosmically and personally.
Amos has long been celebrated for her cutting words, and on Ocean to Ocean, the severity of its subject means they leave an even deeper wound. “Metal Water Wood,” which Amos said was one of the first tracks she wrote for the album, contains the extremely timely lament: “I know, my dear / It’s been a brutal year”; the song goes round in circles, its broken chords echoing the “shattered dreams of mine” that made Amos’ life unknown and unsettling. On the title song, on pianos and guitars that roll like storm clouds, Amos looks desperately at the world and growls: a damn / For all they break ”: An indictment of all those that are ruining the planet is a protest song delivered with the outspoken frankness of porch conversations and phone calls. And “Birthday Baby,” the closest to the album, might be a minor rallying cry for anyone celebrating the anniversary of their arrival on Earth by clinking glasses for their own survival.
Loss is woven throughout the record, particularly the death of Amos’ mother. “Flowers Burn to Gold” is a magnificent eulogy in which Amos and his piano take center stage while a choir of choristers sometimes comes to comfort her. On the nervous “Speaking With Trees”, Amos addresses her mother while a serpentine guitar wraps around her: “I hid your ashes under the tree house”, she sings , contemplating the unknowability of nature and how it connects us all.
“Spies,” the middle of the album, is one of his highlights, pairing a simple blast of ’90s alternative rock with incredibly lively lyrics (“They Can Tell They’re on Vacation / Grab a Coffee milk in a poppy beret “) and paradise- sent elements such as icy strings and an arpeggiated piano, as well as a baroque bridge, which breaks with the rhythm and heightens the surreal imagery. Its propulsive rhythm makes “Spies” too urgent to be a lullaby, but it’s designed to calm: “Knowing can help / help you close your eyes / close your eyes,” she calms down. the end of the song, apparently as much for herself as for her audience.
On “29 Years”, Amos discusses her legacy as an artist and as a woman, and how the process of discovering herself in public has affected both sides of her. A plush electric piano and razor-sharp guitars swing back and forth as Amos recalls ancient myths, with a chorus of moaning furies: “How does that happen?” “Then the song opens and Amos’ vision widens:” These pieces of me in tatters / I have reconstructed / For 29 years “, she thinks, still in search of a” truth most elusive ”, but using all his talents to get closer to him and his listeners.
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