For most artists, reworking old hits with an orchestra is a sign they’ve run out of ideas. But when Tori Amos does it on Gold Dust, it’s just another example of her thirst for reinvention—especially when it comes to her own music and mythology. The piano-pop icon has always viewed her catalog as an ever-evolving, mutable thing, tweaking her best-known songs on hits collections (2003’s Tales Of A Librarian) and approaching her live shows as a chance to stretch out and improvise, whether solo or with other musicians.
Gold Dust—which she recorded with the Metropole Orchestra, the troupe with which she’s toured in recent years—is more of a traditional Tori Amos album than her previous record, 2011’s orchestral song cycle Night Of Hunters. And true to form, Amos isn’t afraid to make some bold changes to her piano accompaniment. “Flavor” swaps a sparse trip-hop foundation for angsty strings with a cinematic edge; “Star Of Wonder” eliminates Middle Eastern flair in favor of a brass-bold, celebratory march. And “Yes, Anastasia”—a song that already boasted crashing strings on 1994’s Under The Pink—is missing several verses. While this particular omission is slightly sacrilegious, the brevity actually works: Dramatic gong hits, brass swells, and menacing vocals make the thundering piano chords and chorus cry, “We’ll see how brave you are,” that much more ominous.
The latter tune points out Gold Dust’s main flaw, though: For the most part, the album reworks songs that already had orchestral flourishes. Sure, these tunes are inventive and gorgeous. “Programmable Soda” becomes a playful Disney romp through the addition of more brass accents, whimsical strings, and trilling flutes; the woodwinds and speedier tempo on longtime fan favorite “Flying Dutchman” add an optimistic sheen; and “Marianne” now boasts forceful, angst-ridden, staccato spurts. But with a few exceptions, these new versions rarely improve upon the originals. (“Precious Things” actually feels less powerful with strings, as the piano sounds anemic without scorn-filled drums and guitars.)
Gold Dust’s strength comes from how invested Amos is in her older songs. She doesn’t just perform them, she empathizes with them. For instance, on “Jackie’s Strength” and “Cloud On My Tongue,” her voice is full of confidence born from wisdom and experience. Her soft touch also emerges on several Little Earthquakes songs—the still-searing “Winter” has resigned strings and a concerned vocal delivery, while “Silent All These Years” opts for a nostalgic vocal take and restrained orchestra swells. Still, while anyone who lost touch with Amos over the years will certainly enjoy Gold Dust—and the sonic upgrades to some of her best songs are sublime—in the end, it’s not essential.