’m going to hell anyway, so I may as well come out and say what you’d be thinking if you sat all the way through Tori Amos’ career from Y Kant Tori Read to The Beekeeper: the only way that we’re going to get a good album from her in this day and age is if someone has the decency to abduct and kill her daughter. For a woman that has charted the truly awesome heights of her career with the baggage of a rape (Little Earthquakes) and a miscarriage (From The Choirgirl Hotel) strapped to her back, the realisation is obvious: a happy, contented, motherly Tori Amos is as irrelevant, sterile, and airbrushed as her face is on the cover of this album. Tori: it’s over.
The reason that Tori Amos worked as one of the most essential recording artists of the 1990s was that she was always at the heart of what was going on, “Sympathy For The Devil” style. She was one of the featured players in the Kurt/Courtney/Billy/Trent soap opera; the chosen muse for crossover dance acts in the mid 90s thanks to her work with Armand Van Helden and BT; and, despite never touring with it, she practically invented Lilith Fair. The woman was an integral part of the 90s, and she did so by never being the Livejournal on the black keys victim that some people wanted to paint her as—she always came equipped with relevance to the music industry and a point to make. Sitting through the 80 minutes of passionless and uninspired plinky-plonk that makes up The Beekeper, it’s become horridly apparent that she has neither.
The real killer here though, the Luke Mitchell of the entire matter, is that this could have been a chance for a fourth incarnation of Amos. A fourth route that her career could have taken. A fourth fanbase for her to be alternately devoured and beautified by. The path taken on 2002’s Scarlet’s Walk had an obvious end-destination. It was the only place where any near 40 year old with a ten-year plus chart career and a newborn to feed could have gone: AOR. That album marked a tentative step into those waters, it teased a return to the “What’s wrong with a girl and her piano?” sound of Little Earthquakes, but added that FM sheen over the top, making it more kitchen than college campus. That was a tentative step into those waters. The Beekeeper, on the other hand, takes a running dive from a 100 foot board into a lyrical matter that’s roughly three inches deep. And, inevitability, there’s casualties. The validity of one career, and the respect of all those members of her fanbase that don’t drink their Kool Aid from a Tori Amos official merchandising beaker.
It isn’t the fact that she’s attempting AOR that’s the problem, it’s the fact that she makes such a hash out of it. These are halcyon days for the genre, FM radio hasn’t sounded as good since 1985—it’s a good time to be running away from the underground. AOR no longer has to mean “tedious.” Amos, sadly, didn’t get the memo. There’s nothing here that’s as disturbing as “Me and a Gun,” or as danceable as “Raspberry Swirl,” or as consuming as “Glory of the 80s,” or as enjoyable as 98.7% of her back catalogue, or anything to insight an emotion stronger than “hmmm.” It’s an album to wash the dishes to as it bleeds into your aforementioned kitchen through your aforementioned FM radio band.
The Beekeeper consists of 19 album closers in search of a good album to attach themselves to the end of. They certainly aren’t going to find one here. Each and every track here sounds as if it was the last thing laid down in the studio each day, 19 separate musical Martini shots, 19 takes at getting everything out of the way with no desire to make it sound any good. She even cannibalises herself, deliberately giving the opener here, “Parasol,” echoes of Little Earthquakes’ kick-off track “Crucify.” Irrespective of whether this is meant to be a clever piece of self-reference, or whether she’s just ran out of ideas and would hope we haven’t noticed, all it serves to do is mark how far she’s fell off. She’s fell off like anvils in Road Runner cartoons. She’s fell off so far the Making of… The Beekeeper documentary could probably suffice as a sequel to Touching the Void.
Lyrically she’s gone as well. Whereas the olden days you could spend hours upon days unravelling Amos’ lyrics, mysteries wrapped in enigmas rapped in religious baggage, nowadays she’s just reading out 7 across from the Times’ cryptic crossword an attempting to pass it off as deepness. “When it's all said and done we will lose a piece to a carnivorous vegetarian” she croaks on “Barons of Suburbia,” and the lack of interest in her voice can be measured in kilograms. Songs are now called things like “Original Sinsuality” (DO. YOU. SEE?) and we’re meant to think that that’s OK. And then there’s “Ireland,” the new low point of both her career and culture in the previous decade, where she tells us about her Saab and we’re meant to care. We don’t care. You cannot care about any of this. A woman who has delivered her career in the mindset that you can connect with your audience, that Amos has always been the one true blank slate of female rock stardom, the one figure that fans can just identify with irrespective of who they are or what they’re going through, a woman that’s meant so much to so many people. And now a woman who’s realised that having cultivated a fanbase such as this she doesn’t need to try any more. Arrogance is a very ugly trait. And it’s one that no number of facelifts or chemical injections can hide.
Reviewed by: Dom Passantino
Reviewed on: 2005-02-21