One of the most vociferous opponents of patriarchy and social constructs, Tori Amos has almost created a cult status for herself. The fame and critical acclaim that she has achieved did not come easily and it has been a long journey, having to ward off controversies and an almost patriarchal music industry. Her tenth studio album Abnormally Attracted to Sin is going to be released in the U.K on the 18th and in the US on the 19th.
The album has garnered a lot of attention and both positive and negative criticisms. The most common and rather unjust criticism has been that of the album being too long. The album runs for about 75 minutes and most reviewers have felt the album could have been edited to seem similar to a pop album, something that is usually well received by the market. However, Tori has never made music for the masses or for the industry, so to speak. Tori’s music has always been something that walks past commercialism, musical stereotypes, and lyrical expectations of the industry.
This time around, she has again refused to censor herself, and that was indeed a great decision to make. In a scenario like today’s it is almost impossible to make everyone happy and artists like Tori Amos are not answerable to those who seem to lack patience to savour music that is rich and luxurious like vintage wine. In fact, the reason why most people find it hard to accept or digest an album that is 75 minutes long is perhaps because the music industry has manufactured people’s tastes in music too. It is always cheaper and less exorbitant to create a record that contains about 10 – 12 tracks.
When an artist feels “generous” and drops in a few more tracks, people lose interest. Unfortunately, the 3:30 long tracks, and 10 track albums have become the norm and anything that exceeds these numbers are understood as being the result of bad editing. Nevertheless, Tori Amos is at her lyrical and musical best in Abnormally Attracted to Sin. The album’s 17 tracks carry the listener through varied sonic landscapes while keeping the discerning listener hooked to the piano, guitar, synth and ravishing vocals that Tori has come to be identified with.
AATS is incredibly close to Tori’s heart and those who are familiar with her previous albums would sense a deja vu here and a sense of nostalgia there. The album is refreshingly new, yet packs in memories and flavours from her previous albums. However, each track has a life of its own and is able to stand on its own in these 75 minutes of sonic joyride. Tori Amos has always been a vocal critic of religion, patriarchy, the idea of a traditional family and the angst that follows it all.
In AATS, she explores sin and what sin could actually be. Tori suggests sin isn’t what one’s mother or priest tells it is, but sin is when one cheats oneself. One sins when one continues to stay within the confines others have built around the being. One sins when one fails to run away from a torturous home to please someone loved. One sins more when one continues to writhe within the shackles of family, religion, and destructive social constructs.
Of course, the album has a very sexual element to it and that is what makes it sinful. Sex is something that has largely been the opium of hypocrites. Perhaps, that is when the act of sex becomes an act of sin. Minus hypocrisy, there isn’t much to sex anyway and is like the red wine, which is savoured, enjoyed and forgotten. AATS is more than the audio mescaline that Tori wanted to create. It is sinfully passionate, dark, angry and rich. Tori seeks to explain sin and deconstruct sin as one understands it.
Sin, according to her is not when one wears gold or sleeps with people. Bondage and the acceptance of these bondages could be the original sin. The conscious refusal, unconscious denial, helpless inability, and languorous nonchalance about physical, mental and spiritual bondage could be the original sin. Tori may have sung about patriarchy and what it does to women and relationships between women. However, these 17 songs are as relevant to men as they are to women. That perhaps is the magic that Tori weaves sonically and lyrically.
It seems like patriarchy has not wronged just women, but also men, LGBT people, children and everyone who walks on two legs. AATS certainly is not for a particular group, but the stories told in the album can serve as inspirations to men, women spawning across all ages, races, sexual orientations and affiliations. The 75 minutes of AATS has 17 tracks, and each has a story to tell in the most passionate way possible.
The opener Give opens up possibilities of interpretations and lyrically has to be one of the most startling openers. The song seems to tell the story of giving and taking. The act of giving itself being a very spiritual experience, it could also be one of the most sinful if done in order to prove a point or if it is done in a vampirish and patronizing manner. Give reminds one of Portishead and folk tunes and has a spaced out sadness to it.
Welcome to England
Welcome to England has a more cheerful sound to it and suggests the colours must violate the blackness. If the colours are monochromic English fog and mist trying to wad off the blackness of a winter night is something to think about.
Strong Black Vine
With Strong Black Vine, the album gets darker and Tori questions religious hypocrisy and the inability of people to save themselves from the bondage of religion and faith. Faith and intolerance to other people’s faiths has a grip over people that very few can compete with. The rock like rhythms and manic piano in the background set the mood in this beautiful track.
Flavor reminds the listener of older Tori Amos music and the sparse piano hauntingly accompanies the questions of ownership of God. However, the God could be an allusion again to the political supremacy governments fight over.
Not Dying Today
Tori Amos feverishly hisses that she is not dying today, much to the despair and confusion of commercial elements in the industry. The song seems to suggest the tenacity of artists to survive in spite of the expectations that record companies have of them. Not Dying Today has a quick and rhythmic sound that culminates in assertion of not bowing down to be slaughtered.
The beautiful Maybe California is a song sung by a woman to another to stop her from killing herself. While many women seek the easy way out down cliffs, Tori suggests it perhaps might be what the world and a patriarchal society wants: the elimination of those that stand against the institution. Maybe California is not only the story of women but also men who play the roles adjudged to them by the society.
In the Curtain Call, Tori seems to explore the effects of living a cruel life that is made worse by critics that suck blood. However, one can suck ones own blood by taking ‘little friendly substances’ and blown them all by the time one is 35. The allusions to a rash life and drug usage are apparent. Enchanting piano and strumming create a hypnotic effect on the listener.
Fire to Your Plain
Fire to your Plain is surprisingly up-tempo and tells the story of flirtations and seductions. Most of which ends up in deceit and hurt, unless someone isn’t brave enough. The song is a throw back to the days of Old Skool Tori.
Police Me is one of the most criticized song on this album, and unfortunately so. Police Me seems similar to ‘Professional Widow’ but on a closer listen, it certainly sounds different and has a strength of its own. The reference to the slutty goth is one that is filled with anger, angst and disgust. The song surprisingly grows on the listener and is a sarcastic and contemptuous take on chaperones.
That Guy is a melodic and theatrical song that flows like spilled champagne on a bed of satin, slowly but surely. That Guy could perhaps be a single itself, for it not only has the ability to stand on its own, but can also be a good example of what AATS hold within itself. The song ends with prodding and questioning if That Guy would last.
Abnormally Attracted to Sin
Abnormally Attracted to Sin has an ambient and club feel to it, though a little too dark for a party. Tori warns the listener to not venture into the ‘church’ if one is abnormally attracted to sin. However, the ‘church’ could be a reference to sexuality, which is almost spiritual if one looks at it that way, though Tori might allow the listener more freedom to make sense of it. The song is almost like venturing into the churchyard at midnight instead of praying at the church on a Sunday morning.
500 Miles is another track that has been lambasted by critics and fans alike, though it is surprisingly fresh and listenable. The song certainly is not avoidable and the 500 miles might be an allusion to the long treacherous journey one makes in order to find joy.
Mary Jane is when the piano takes a more important place and even takes the center stage as Tori cattily seems to tell the story of a boy wanting to bring a girl home, and the mother’s predicament about it all. It however is typical Tori-esque humour with allusions.
Starling is like a penance to the misery one finds oneself in, while in a relationship. The nightmares that one finds themselves in can be escaped by the raven’s cry, and not the lonely lark’s which would have been slightly pleasant. The nightmare in a relationship seems to continue long after it is over. The song has soft strumming and whisperings that are typical to Tori.
Fast Horse is the ballad that listeners would find appealing. Though Tori sounds a little different on this song while she pronounces the word, the song rues over not being happy with what one has. Instead of the fast horse, one craves for the Maserati and let the horse gallop away.
One of the most poignant and beautiful ballads is Ophelia. The song is classical and ravishing lyrically and musically. Tori Amos’ voice sounds like burgundy that is being drunk in front of a fire while it snows outside. The song starkly reminds that some fathers could control from their graves even. While nudging herself and others to not let others stop them from unhinging themselves, she speaks against self-destruction. Self-destruction is the sin that all human beings are attracted to abnormally. Ophelia is the piano ballad that everyone has waited after American Doll Posse.
Lady in Blue
Lady in Blue starts softly and gently and culminates in a sort of climax that reminds one of the climaxes in Waitress or Precious Things in Venus & Back. The Lady in Blue could be anyone on the street trying to make sense of a senseless life.
Abnormally Attracted to Sin may seem self indulgent and uneven to many critics and listeners, but that is where the strength of the album lies; in its self-indulgence and cragginess. The album surprises the listener with every track and is a gift that needs to be treasured. The gift is certainly one of the best she could have given to her listeners, and the best answer she could have given to people who had problems with her ‘bad editing’ and ‘lack of censorship’.
Abnormally Attracted to Sin is one of the most genuine and passionate albums this year and certainly one of the most beautiful. Perhaps, at the end of the day, an artist’s self-indulgence is not bad at all. Self-indulgence is something that everyone indulges in, and accepting that could be one of the ways one can sin less. The album is all about accepting oneself not withstanding what the society teaches or preaches, what religion is or is not, and about breaking free from the clutches of whatever is holding them.