61.13 min • Deutsche Grammophon • October 01, 2012
Hot on the blazing trail of the wondrous and celestial Night Of Hunters, Tori Amos has delivered another classical reinterpretation album, opting this time to focus on her own diverse and enviable back-catalogue. The ever-beguiling doyen of the concept album has decided to celebrate 20 years of song by exploring where these stories could be playing out now.
The catalyst for this project was a concert where Amos performed with the Metropole Orchestra in Amsterdam in 2010. Recorded in Cornwall with arrangements by John Philip Shenale, and with Jules Buckley conducting the Metropole Orchestra, Amos’s thirteenth studio album is a magnificent journey through an enchanting anthology. Hardly surprising then, that she would select some of her most emotionally-charged and personal narratives to reinterpret. The wonderfully introspective ‘Flavor’ is the perfect opener and sets the tone for the album with its affecting strings and Demerara harmonies. If the original version hypnotised you into a free-fall, the aching tenderness of Amos’s vocal coupled with the dramatic string and woodwind orchestral arrangement will make the hairs on the back of your arm stand up.
In stark contrast to the original recording, ‘Yes, Anastasia’ bursts onto the record with a spellbinding and assertive string and brass intro before weaving into the softer strings. The slow building premise of the original version is superseded by an immediate drama, perhaps a reflection of how our appetites have evolved, craving instant gratification rather than epic storytelling. Nevertheless, the ode to the mysterious Anastasia Romanova loses no power and charges on beautifully until the harmonic bridge bites into an exacting denouement.
There is an aching tenderness here to Amos’s vocal on ‘Jackie’s Strength’ that, dare I say, betters the original Choirgirl version. The wonderful tale of a bride-to-be getting icy feet, her head spinning with life-altering moments before contemplating her own fate is simply stunning as the piano is buttressed by some marvellous sweeping string arrangements.
You’re only popular with anorexia,
So I turn myself inside out, in the hope someone will see.
‘Cloud On My Tongue’ is the second trip Under The Pink and is one of the album’s highlights. The gentle piano introduction weaves beautifully into playful tinkling with some beautiful strings and harmonies leading to the exquisite whirlpool-like bridge. This powerful tale of dipping in and out of a precarious situation is given added intensity and builds into a glorious and grand ending.
I’m already in circles and circles and circles again,
The girl’s in circles and circles, got to stop spinning.
While it’s possible to contest that many of the reinterpreted tracks are already acoustic in their original glory, I can treasure the additional emotional power that a full orchestra lends to the new versions of these stories. Coupled with the gorgeous, rich maturity to Amos’s voice, this forms a formidable blueprint and there are some truly wonderful harmonies to get lost in.
The definitive ‘Winter’ becomes more evocative with an enriched, knowing vocal from Amos, while ‘Marianne’ basks in the glory of its enhanced orchestral manoeuvres, and ‘Star Of Wonder’ sounds stunning with orchestral accompaniment, the brass section underpinning the chorus adding more dramatic opulence to the rework of ‘We Three Kings’. An eerie string section preludes the superbly haunting ‘Precious Things’, the strings and brass chorus adding a new level of innocence to the poignant coming of age tale. The symphonic wonder of ‘Flying Dutchman’ is reinterpreted exquisitely. The quirky and playful ‘Programmable Soda’ forms an interlude of sorts before weaving into the melancholy of ‘Snow Cherries From France’ the tender harmonies bemoaning losing one’s heart; the man in the narrative always appears to me as an Ernest Hemingway type, with the references to sailing and France.
It’s no surprise that one of the album’s stand outs is ‘Silent All These Years’, reworked here with an astonishingly ethereal middle-eight. The lyrics lose none of their poignant effect and the moving vocal and orchestral arrangement is a majestic triumph.
In this arena, the title track ‘Gold Dust’ becomes more of a torch song that I ever imagined possible, with a heartfelt vocal against a backdrop of strings that would melt the coldest of hearts.
And the day that she came, I’m freezing that frame,
I’m freezing that frame.
Gold Dust is a cathartic journey through Amos’s mindmap and is a truly captivating and earnest affair. The powerful lyrics, the stunning orchestral arrangements and that beautiful, haunting voice form a superb testament to one of the most distinctive sonic architects of our time.