The Designer’s Drugs: Tori Amos – Night of Hunters

 

Medium: Album

Stimulus: Tori Amos – Night of Hunters

Anno: 2011

 

 

Tori Amos doing a classical-themed album is sort of an obvious proposition.  As it turns out, it’s also a powerful reality.  The classical aspects of Night of Hunters aren’t blatant; the songs are still mostly built around Tori’s vocals and piano, with all the new orchestral sounds filling out the periphery.  What makes this album different from her previous works, however, almost seems to be the knowledge that this was going to be a classical album.  That label does more to define Night of Hunters than any change in instrumentation.

It’s a very long and dark album, both brooding and distant.  The contradiction is that the music found here is about as menacing as anything Amos has made, yet the lyrics often have a feel of epic poetry and lack Amos’ usual fire.  Sometimes it’s more of an opera than a collection of songs.  The nine minutes of slow decline comprising “Battle of Trees” construct the most obvious example of this grandiose sense of fiction.  It’s a strange thing to say about a musician who once created an entire album exploring five separate aspects of herself, but Night of Hunters feels like Amos at her least personal.  That’s not awful by any stretch – as the brilliant ten minute darkness of “Star Whisperer” proves – but it does require some level of adjustment.

Also requiring some adjustment is the addition of Amos’ daughter on backup vocals.  She’s a bit raspy and nervous, which tends to take away from the songs in which she appears.  The greatest example of this is the Alice and Wonderland-like “Cactus Practice,” which dips into the sort of repeat after me chorus mantras that normally show up in hip hop singles.

There is an example in which the backup steps up, however.  “Job’s Coffin” is one of the moments in which the album shakes off its epic classical programming, and this sort of bluesy feminist call to action is vocally driven by Tori’s daughter, whose rougher voice serves it rather well.

The usual response to those times when musicians create albums that buck their established formulas is to give them a condescending pat on the head and say “Nice experiment!” while waiting for the errant artists to remember where their bread is buttered.  Night of Hunters, however, never comes off as a toe in the water, something to be later written off as non-canonical (see: Y Kant Tori Read?).  Sure, I’d like to hear more albums from Tori Amos that have the high energy, tempos, and lyrical fists of her usual work, but would I listen to another half dozen albums of Amos doing classical?  If they’re like this, then absolutely.

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