Tori Amos: Scarlet's Walk

Tori Amos: Scarlet's Walk

Tori Amos is one of America's most polarizing artists, with each album predictably regarded as a love-it-or-hate-it proposition sure to thrill every fan and aggravate every hater. But she's made good and bad records just like anyone else: For proof, listen to her sublime From The Choirgirl Hotel and her horrid covers album Strange Little Girls back to back. Amos' well-documented idiosyncrasies tend to be reflected in teeth-gnashingly twee flights of fancy just as often as they produce bracing catharsis, making her catalog both rewarding and punishing when taken as a whole. Come to think of it, that just about sums up Scarlet's Walk, her epic follow-up to Strange Little Girls. A characteristically oblique concept album about finding the soul of America in its open roads, the disc marks a vast leap beyond its more gimmicky predecessor. From the pretty ballad "Your Cloud" to the irresistibly poppy single "A Sorta Fairytale," Scarlet's Walk moves through some remarkable terrain. But amid all the elegantly sweeping, minor-key arrangements are the usual aggravating moments, most notably at the end of songs like "Mrs. Jesus" (yeech) and "Wednesday,"; which each close with a breathless solo a cappella vocal for dramatic effect. The result tends to highlight lines that don't serve her well: Try not to groan when Amos stops the music on "Wednesday" long enough to wheeze, "Lost in a place called America." But on Scarlet's Walk, her audacity is just as often admirable, and the album represents a considerable step up for fans and foes alike.

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