Tori Amos is singing about ruby slippers in that line. The song is “Oysters” and it surfaces near the end of her 14th studio album, the recently released “Unrepentant Geraldines.” The magic shoes worked. She’s back. “I’m working my way back to me again,” she continues. “Not every girl is a pearl.”
A haunting anthem for the unpopular, “Oysters” is a perfect moment on an album that succeeds at every turn. After a few years away from the “alternative” section of the record store, scoring a musical, “The Light Princess,” and recording two albums for the classical label, Deutsche Gramophone, her new album is a return to form.
All of the old ingredients are here, and that is good news. There are ferocious piano solos (the title track), and moments of whimsy (“Giant’s Rolling Pin”). Celtic mythology plays a role on the ethereal “Selkie,” which has a chilling piano riff. There is a charming Mother-Tori moment (“Promise,” a duet recorded with her daughter, Tash) and, of course, some straight-up love songs (“Wedding Day” and “Wild Way”).
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There are no less than five stunning, emotionally-charged piano ballads – all of which hold their own next to Amos classics like “Winter” and “Jackie’s Strength.” Tori has said that this album was influenced by visual art. Like Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush before her, Amos paints with words and with music. “16 Shades of Blue,” refers to the painter, Paul Cézanne. In the song, she meditates on growing older in the music business, where most popular female artists are busy clinging to their youthful image rather than writing great songs.
Tori Amos has a rare, transcendent and eternal spark of genius, and the woman really knows how to rock a piano. Her melodies are still gorgeous and surprising, her lyrics are as mysterious and clever as they ever were. She says it all with her distorted, snarling vocals on “16 Shades of Blue”:
“There are those who say I am now too old to play.
You say, ‘Get over it.
If 50 Is the new Black, hooray.
This could be your lucky day.’
But my cables, they are surging…
Almost over-overloading, as you disengage.
Could your heart be slowly ripping into pieces,
Disconnecting from the circuits of your mind?
You’ll get over it, you say…in time.”
That is a bold statement from an artist who refuses to cater to the mainstream. And her admirers wouldn’t have it any other way. After all, “Not every girl is popular. Not every girl is a pearl.” Tori Amos is back with a beautiful vengeance. Behold the seated woman, safe in her frame. She has armed herself with these sonic shades of truth and we are all better to have seen them.
Brent Holcomb is a singer/songwriter and pianist. His first album, “Empire, No More” is being released in September 2014 on iTunes. You can hear him perform his compositions at Lili’s Bistro on Magnolia in his hometown, Fort Worth, Texas.