The Good: Predictably amazing vocals, Decent lyrics
The Bad: Musically unimaginative, Comparatively short
The Basics: Unrepentant Geraldines is fine, but entirely unsurprising, Tori Amos.
One of the consequences of having a distinctive style and voice is that it is hard to make something that is both clearly yours and also sounds new. As I sat down to review Unrepentant Geraldines, the latest album by Tori Amos, I accidentally read an article about the album's genesis. It was both unsurprising to me to learn that Tori Amos felt like she was in a creative rut before she produced Unrepentant Geraldines and that after years of doing other musical projects, she decided to return to her musical roots for Unrepentant Geraldines. The reason both ideas were unsurprising to me was that Tori Amos has a very distinctive musical style and voice that she mined very effectively for her early works - but had pretty much done everything one could conceive of within that niche - and after listening to Unrepentant Geraldines on heavy repeat, it is hard not to acknowledge that the album sounds quite a bit like most of Tori Amos's early works.
When Unrepentant Geraldines does not sound like exactly lie what one might expect of Tori Amos if they heard any of her albums from the 1990s, Amos sounds like the is musically channelling Loreena McKennitt on the album. That is not bad, but Unrepentant Geraldines ends up sounding very much like what one expects of Tori Amos or something derivative of another artist (albeit with Amos's amazing voice!).
With fourteen tracks, clocking out at 59:24, Unrepentant Geraldines is entirely the creative work of Tori Amos. As one might expect, Amos wrote both the music and lyrics to all of the songs and she provides the primary vocals on Unrepentant Geraldines. Amos plays her piano and organ on all of the songs and she is credited as the album's sole producer. Unrepentant Geraldines is very much the album Tori Amos intended to create and release.
Musically, Unrepentant Geraldines is largely what one expects of a Tori Amos album. While "Giant's Rolling Pin" has a more poppy sound (and is light guitar-driven) and "Wedding Day" sounds almost Celtic, most of the rest of the songs are very typical "one woman and a piano" songs that are dominated by Tori Amos's voice. The sound of Amos and her piano is not bad, but it is very predictable and few of the tunes truly stand out. Indeed, on tracks like "Weatherman" and "Selkie," the musical accompaniment sounds more like Amos is noodling on the piano while singing, as opposed to developing a full song. Few of the songs have truly memorable instrumental accompaniment to them ("Giant's Rolling Pin" and "16 Shades Of Blue" being notable exceptions).
Vocally, Tori Amos is Tori Amos on Unrepentant Geraldines. Amos sings in her soprano register and has a whispy, waify sound to her songs exactly like one would expect of her. Tori Amos has amazing vocal range and herein lays part of the problem with new Tori Amos music; she did so much, so well, early on in her career, there is virtually nothing she could do with her voice (which dominates her music) to surprise or intrigue the ears of her listeners. Tori Amos maintains her vocal quality on Unrepentant Geraldines, but her melodic voice and amazing lung capacity have not fundamentally changed in any recognizable way from her first albums to Unrepentant Geraldines.
In a similar fashion, Tori Amos has always been an exceptional poets and Unrepentant Geraldines is no exception. Amos writes with beautiful imagery and with decent thematic complexity on Unrepentant Geraldines. Tori Amos lampoons the "states rights" defence to denying human rights to people on "Giant's Rolling Pin" and she deserves a lot of credit for making the subject musical. Still, Amos manages to do just that as she sings "Everybody spies / So why the big surprise? / That is why the working woman / Well deserves a slice / (Mississippi mud or Key lime?) / But now the nice taxman / In every state has tried / To say that it's in his jurisdiction to decide / Who gets a bit of pie / So honestly that's why" ("Giant's Rolling Pin").
As one might expect of a Tori Amos album, Tori Amos sings about empowering women on Unrepentant Geraldines. While there might be plenty to Unrepentant Geraldines that listeners have heard before (thematically and vocally), it is hard not to imagine that Amos would still be able to sway a new generation of young women with anthems that cry out "I'm gonna free myself from your opinion / I'm gonna heal myself from your religion / I'm gonna free myself from your aggression / I'm gonna heal myself from your religion"("Unrepentant Geraldines").
Amos has a keen insight for expressing emotions and making the complex musical. With lines like "As my heart is slowly ripping into pieces / Disconnecting from the circuits of my mind / 'You'll get over it' you say 'in time' / In time? / If the clocks are black absorbing everything but / A remembering how we made it that / Clocks are black" ("16 Shades Of Blue"), it is clear Tori Amos still has something to say and the ability to convey classic sentiments with fresh phrasing.
Ultimately, though, Unrepentant Geraldines is fine, but it is more exactly what one expects, as opposed to sounding new, fresh, or even different from much of the rest of Tori Amos's musical library.
The best track is "16 Shades Of Blue," the low point is the forgettable "Invisible Boy."
For other Tori Amos works, please visit my reviews of:
Under The Pink
Boys For Pele
From The Choirgirl Hotel
Jackie's Strength (single)
To Venus And Back
Strange Little Girls
Tales Of A Librarian: A Tori Amos Collection
American Doll Posse
Night Of Hunters
For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.