Tori Amos' latest disc is her eighth solo album of new material, and while it doesn't fully return her to the emotional directness or melodic power of her early '90s discs, it comes close. Like 2002's Scarlett's Walk, Amos mixes and matches the most successful elements from her various eras and the result is a very engaging and strong album, striking a good balance between melody and mythos.
Naturally, there is an album mythology underpinning The Beekeeper. Her background for writing the album includes the Gnostic Gospels, gender roles in Christianity, and ancient wisdom learned from bee masters. Seriously. Amos divides the album into six gardens, with her protaganist being navigated through these gardens by the beekeeper of the album's title.
All of which gets a little complicated and is absolutely not necessary for one's enjoyment of the album.
The album's first single, "Sleeps With Butterflies," showcases Tori's strong melodic sense and underscores that one doesn't really need to know--and even care--that this song of morning-after romantic tensions is assigned to the "roses and thorns" garden.
Remember when Amos was compared to Kate Bush in every review? That connection has been sharply tenuous ever since the ink on Little Earthquakes' packaging started to dry, and I've always suspected the endless comparisons nudged Tori, at least in part, to make the increasingly obtuse records she began to craft in the mid-'90s.
Yet as Kate Bush's recording inactivity makes the slow transition from being measured in years to decades, Amos has recorded one of her most Kate Bushesque songs since "Happy Phantom": "Ireland," a tune about a roadtrip to the titular country punctuated throughout with remarkably evocative "sha-na-na-nah" backing vocals.
Speaking of rhythmic vocal devices, "Cars and Guitars" uses a breathy (and rather hypnotic) "che-che-chaw" chant to propel the music as much as her beloved Bosendorfer piano or Mac Aladdin's prominent guitar patterns.
Amos' variation in textures keeps the CD's nearly hour-and-twenty-minute running time from dragging, ranging from the elegiac simplicity of "Toast" to a series of songs with a gospel flavor ("Witness," "Hoochie Woman," and "Sweet the Sting").
The Beekeeper's emotional gamut also swings wide. On the title song, Amos sings of the mortality made all too real after last year losing her brother Michael in a car accident and nearly her mom after a serious heart attack. "In your gown with your breathing mask/Plugged into a heart machine/As If you ever needed one," say her lyrics. In a nearly hidden secondary vocal line she sings, "take this message to Michael"—-an apparent reference to her brother.
And yet, on the odd little song "The Power of Orange Knickers" she sings with Damien Rice (the first "featured" guest duet on a Tori album) the sexual politics sounds camped up. "Can somebody tell me now who is this terrorist/Those girls that smile kindly then rip your life to pieces?" the (somewhat unlikely) pair sing, and their blended voices seem to underline a very British ribaldry implicit in the lyrics.
With 19 songs and 79 minutes (and laudably little filler), Tori gives you a lot to think about and lot to simply enjoy, with a lasting impact either way. Whether you like to dig into your Tori Amos albums with a spoon or a shovel, The Beekeeper satisfies.