Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Melodic Without Much Statement, Night Of Hunters Leaves Me Unimpressed.

The Good: Voice, Musical accompaniment, Duration
The Bad: Lyrics are blasé, Nothing distinctive on the album, Bonus DVD is nothing incredible.
The Basics: Tori Amos’s latest musical outing, Night Of Hunters is a fine musical concept album, but the lyrics add up to surprisingly little for the artist.

It is always exciting for me when my current Artist Of The Month puts out a new album while I am studying their musical works. With Tori Amos as my April female Artist Of The Month, I was excited to discover in 2011, she released a new album. So, I picked up the deluxe version of Night Of Hunters, which features Amos and her daughter in an ambitious concept album. Having now listened to the album eight times with the work on pretty heavy repeat, I am unsurprised that Amos has not been making mainstream waves with the album. Night Of Hunters is a concept album and it lacks a distinctive single. What’s more, Night Of Hunters harkens back to a sound Amos had on Little Earthquakes (half the songs reminded me of “Crucify”), with other tracks sounding much more like compositions by Jon Brion than Tori Amos.

All of this is not to say that Night Of Hunters is bad – it’s not – but it is unremarkable in every demonstrable way outside the vocal quality. While the instrumentals are decent and the vocals are predictably great, there was not a single line on Night Of Hunters that impressed me. In fact, while Night Of Hunters might be a concept album for the instruments and mythological themes, what is noticeably lacking from the album is a statement. More than anything, Night Of Hunters is Tori Amos (and her daughter, who provides guest vocals), saying “Look what I can do!” But we’ve heard what Amos can do before and when she is at her best, she makes a statement. And I write this as one who loves some of Amos’s concept albums, most notably Scarlett’s Walk.

With fourteen tracks clocking out at 71:38, Night Of Hunters is very much the work of Tori Amos. While much of the music is based upon Classical Music from the likes of Chopin, Schubert and Bach, Amos arranged all of the songs and wrote all of the lyrics on Night Of Hunters. As is her habit, Amos also provides the lead vocals on every song and she plays the Bosendorfer on each track as well. Despite there being an executive producer for Deutsche Grammophone, Amos is credited as the album’s producer, so it is very clearly the artistic vision of Tori Amos.

Unfortunately, in the case of Night Of Hunters, that means that Amos bears the responsibility for making the album make sense and hold together. Night Of Hunters does have decent cohesion of sound and there are storytelling threads that travel between songs. But Night Of Hunters seems much more about making music than actually saying anything distinct and interesting in and of itself. The result is a pop-Classical album (which sounds much like Jon Brion’s work with Fiona Apple or Aimee Mann) that sounds good, but would be pretty much the same without the lyrics.

Instrumentally, Night Of Huntersis pretty much what one expects of a Tori Amos album. To be fair to Amos, Night Of Hunters is more what listeners might have expected about a decade ago, before she picked up the guitar and proved she had the ability to rock (a la Strange Little Girls). Night Of Hunters is dominated by the piano with a strong woodwind backup that is anything but typical for a pop album. Instead, Night Of Hunters sounds exactly as it is supposed to; it has a somewhat timeless Classical sound and feel to it that resonates well with those who want something far from the banality of contemporary pop-rock music. The truth is, however, that Night Of Hunters focuses much more on the Classical elements than anything remotely rock or pop. The result is an album that sounds like background music for a Barnes & Noble more than anything one might hear on the radio . . . on any channel.

Vocally, Night Of Hunters provides listeners with nothing new. Tori Amos has her usual exceptional range and provides listeners with clear, beautiful vocal presentations almost the entire album. She mixes it up on songs like “Fearlessness” where she is backed or mixed in a way that is reminiscent of her single “Crucify” and it feels and sounds as familiar as the rest of the album does. The real new vocalizations come from Amos’ daughter Natashya Hawley who has a predictably young voice. The two harmonize well on songs like “Cactus Practice,” though some of Hawley’s vocals are produced out of the range of sounding like an actual human voice.

On the subject of “Catus Practice,” part of the problem with Night Of Hunters is the album’s lyrics. They oscillate between stories that seemingly go nowhere, ridiculous sound bytes and the overwhelmingly troubling. “Cactus Practice” is, arguably, the peak of the latter. On its surface, “Cactus Practice” is a silly voice exercise wherein Tori Amos and her eleven year-old daughter sing nonsensically to one another. With a ton of repetition, the two sing lines like “Maybe he and I are like a pair of suns / That are captured / Eternally linked into chasing / Each other's spin / Eternally linked into chasing / Each other's spin . . . I'd like to induct you into / The drink of the cactus practice / Cactus / Cactus / Practice” (“Cactus Practice”). If it is not viewed as utter nonsense, then it is a song about tripping on a powerful hallucinogen. Assuming that is the case, there is something pretty disturbing about a child inducting an adult into the practice of taking hallucinogens (which is the role “Anabelle” has in relation to the musical protagonist performed by Tori Amos). As one who is not so keen on the mistaken belief that drugs have to be a part of an artist’s creative process, the lyrics and presentation of “Cactus Practice” is unsettling.

Night Of Hunters features a few songs with the Anabelle character and they are not all bad. “Job’s Coffin,” for example has a decent storytelling quality to it. As a song about empowering women, the song is smartly written with the musical protagonist imploring, “You must out-create that destructive tendency / Let your fire starter hear the fury / Sister it's time to bring it back on line” (“Job’s Coffin”). That song works pretty well as a duet between Amos and her daughter.

When she does have a statement to make, Night Of Hunters works nicely. Amos is a true poet and her use of imagery is striking even on this album. When Amos sings “The time you sailed on / Under the diamond eye / Or for a dolphin who for a song had / Crossed night / To bring back your bride / Under a warm Tuscan sun / No cliff was too steep for us / Here at the edge of the moon / I surf a curve thrown by you” (“Edge Of The Moon”), it is hard not to envision and feel what she is singing about. She paints a beautiful image with her words and the playful musical accompaniment blends nicely with her soprano vocals.

Largely, though, Night Of Hunters is indistinctive and the album blends together more than having any tracks that really stand out. The result is an album that is mostly forgettable. I could choose no superlative track for Night Of Hunters because so many of the songs and vocals sound so similar, though I would go with “Cactus Practice” as the album’s weak link because that stood out in an unpleasant way whenever it came up in the rotation.

For other Tori Amos works, please visit my reviews of:
Boys For Pele
From The Choirgirl Hotel
Spark (single)
To Venus And Back
Midwinter Graces


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for a complete listing of all the albums and singles I have reviewed!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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