Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Abnormally Repelled By Editors

The tracklisting for Tori Amos's new album has been released. The bad news staring me right in the face is the fact that there's 17 songs on it. Count 'em. 17. No great album has more than 12, 13 songs, tops. I'm entirely serious. Name me a great album, a truly flawless album that has more than 12 songs and I'll be super impressed (with one exception, which I'll get to in a minute). For my money, the best album of this decade so far is Joanna Newsom's Ys which has a grand total of 5 songs. And each of them is perfect, a little jewel that has been laboured over and meticulously crafted, and it is a beautiful, mysterious, wonderful album. A real masterpiece. I can't think anything is going to surpass it, for me, this decade. And it does not need to be one second longer! Artists and bands would do better to always leave the audience wanting more, rather than overstaying their welcome. Brevity, brevity, brevity! The Smiths were masters at this. Almost all their studio albums have 10 tracks (maybe every single one, I'm not positive. But the majority do). 10 tracks, the base number for humans. Long enough to make you fall in love, short enough to leave you craving more. When I finish listening to an album, I want to be eager to press play again, not feel drained and wanting to switch artists. And maybe Tori has this insane work ethic and she's going to release a 17-song album where every single track is a pure gem, but I highly doubt it, if her last couple of albums are any indication.

Let's do a quick run down. Easily my favourite Tori Amos albums are her first three: Little Earthquakes, Under the Pink, Boys For Pele. Her first two albums each have 12 tracks. Perfect-o! Boys for Pele is that exception I mentioned earlier. It has 18 songs, some of them only a minute long, and I would argue that it is a near flawless album. It's a real aural experience. Weirdly spiritual and lyrical and psycho and amazing. I wouldn't listen to it as often as I'd stick on, say, Little Earthquakes, which is just a basic singer/songwriter album (albeit an amazing example of the genre, far more incisive and dangerous than other similar 'girl & piano' efforts) but I think it's probably her best work, her pinnacle as an artist. It sounds consistent - both aurally and lyrically, thematically. You can listen to it the full way through without skipping tracks, because it sounds like a singular entity, coming from a focused, creative mind. Not that all the songs sound the same, far from it. But in later albums you can kind of see her jumping around haphazardly. Songs follow songs that have nothing in common with each other and it sounds like a big jumbled mess. And then she began to impose really batshit 'themes' onto her albums, like the American Doll Posse thing where she had the five different characters, and they all had their special symbols and whatever, and it's all really in-your-face and unsubtle. Back in the days of Pele, the themes and connections were all buried back deep in her mind, and the themes came out in the composition of the songs and it was up to the listener to work out all the symbolism and allusions. She didn't bash us over the head with booklets and videos and 'visualettes' like she does nowadays. Pele is completely mysterious. She doesn't overburden us with accompanying explanations. There's just those 18 wonderful songs. I think the brilliance of that album was a magical combination of her coming out of a messy break-up around the same time she got rid of her old producer (who I think was actually a great assest to her in general, but probably wouldn't have worked on this particular album) travelling around and learning about different myths and customs, and, yes, the taking of hallucinogenic drugs. All those elements just came together at the right time, she became super productive and wacky and creative, and she worked her ass off on the album, and it shows.

But it was also the beginning of the end, I think. It was the first time she produced an album herself, and she kept up the self-production thing for the rest of her career. I'm not a sound-engineer obviously, and I really don't understand the ins-and-outs of sound production and mastering and blah-de-blah, but I can tell that I love the sound of Pele - it echoes and hums, and there are all these weird background effects like the church bells and the noise of the bull, all recorded in Co. Wicklow. But lately, all her albums have sounded horrible. Way too dense (not a very technical term, but it's how they sound to me!) and all the electric guitars are too loud, and I just want to shake her and say "You need an outside opinion! Your own judgement sucks! Get an outside producer or sound-engineer or whatever, and no, your husband doesn't count". And maybe an outside opinion would help her cut down the length of her albums. Because as she went along, her albums became longer, and listening to them became an interminable experience. Scarlet's Walk - 18. The Beekeeper - 19. American Doll Posse - 23. I mean, really. None of them are even double albums. All of them are on one disc. 23?!? I think she keeps trying to recreate the Pele effect and it just isn't happening for her, for whatever reason. Age, not taking drugs anymore, motherhood, whatever - I don't want to speculate. But I don't think it's the right tack, to release yet another lengthy album. Get an editor, lady.

Here's the tracklist:

1. ‘Give’
2. ‘Welcome to England’
3. ‘Strong Black Vine’
4. ‘Flavor’
5. ‘Not Dying Today’
6. ‘Maybe California’
7. ‘Curtain Call’
8. ‘Fire to Your Plain’
9. ‘Police Me’
10. ‘That Guy’
11. ‘Abnormally Attracted to Sin’
12. ‘500 Miles’
13. ‘Mary Jane’
14. ‘Starling’
15. ‘Fast Horse’
16. ‘Ophelia’
17. ‘Lady in Blue’

Nothing much to say, other than I cannot stand the album title, and I hate that it's the name of a track, too. It just reeks of teenage rebellion, and I'm thinking "...you're in your forties. You've milked the whole religious thing countless times before. Move on!".

Having said all that, I'll be first in line on Grafton Street when it's released in May. Don't judge!

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