Fifteen albums in, songstress Tori Amos proves there’s nothing flaky about her, as new release Native Invader blends lush piano with searing lyrics and commentary
Album review: Tori Amos' Native Invader is smart and beautifully structured
There was always an element of nominative determinism about Cornflake Girl, the 1994 song that came to define the early part of Tori Amos’s now-decades-long career. While not quite a breakout release and not her biggest hit – Professional Widow, released in 1996, took the latter honour – it effectively created the reductive shorthand that was often used to describe her quirky musical arrangements and her fiery live performances.
Prodigiously talented, the classically trained Amos released her 15th album this month. Long-term fans will find enough on Native Invader to enjoy. Those who have followed her more sketchily will find plenty to admire too.
Reindeer King, the album’s opener, is a track that hews close to Amos’s most familiar sound, blending a lush piano landscape and typically haunting, ethereal lyrics with a vocal performance that seems to speak directly to the comparison that has often been made between her and Kate Bush. If there is such a thing as trademark Tori, this might be it.
Benjamin too, the album’s penultimate track, falls into the same category, albeit lyrically it presents an all-out assault on political “pimps in Washington”. Such searing commentary and frustration with the world we live in pops up all over Native Invader.
Things also get a little discursive elsewhere. Wings is an oddity, sonically it’s a diversion into electronica; lyrically it’s more obviously in another of the artist’s sweet spots, talking directly to some of her common themes of relationship strife and loss. There is more fatalism and weariness at work on both Cloud Riders, which finds Amos “standing on the edge of a cliff, didn’t think it would come to this” and Breakaway, a neatly packed break-up song: “You feel betrayed, I feel played,” she sings, “by our so-called friends”.
Always smart and beautifully structured, Amos’s new album is one that rewards repeated listening. Certainly, her lyrics – rarely less than arresting, occasionally impenetrable – demand it. The cornflake girl may be a character from times past, but her spirit is still very much alive.