‘The Beekeeper’, says Tori Amos, is about the “struggle to find a bedrock of truth beneath the tangle of lies, mythology, casual assumptions and political manipulation that have formed the cultural landscape of the USA today”.
Complicated enough for you?
Not for the artist who once took on a different persona for each song on her album of cover versions. Or catalogued the tracks on her greatest hits collection according to the Dewey decimal system.
So, according to Amos, here we have the story of a woman who visits the garden of life, eats from the tree of knowledge and subsequently experiences the full gamut of emotions from passion to bereavement.
Got that? There’s more.
The songs, which reflect those emotions and the woman’s relationships with people and events around her, are grouped into six “gardens”; “our lives are reflective of a garden” where we “can plant different ideas”.
And we haven’t even reached the metaphor of the bee and its symbiotic relationship with nature, or the way the music – an interplay between the “masculine” organ and “feminine” piano – represents the pollination that happens in the garden.
If you’re an Amos devotee, you’ll lap up the symbolism. If not, you’ll probably just be confused. But thankfully there’s always been more to the quirky songstress than convoluted themes and complex allegories – like remarkable songs you can appreciate at face value.
On ‘The Beekeeper’ she serves up a whopping 19, displaying more musical diversity than previous efforts. Of course her piano and voice continue to dominate, but her long-time backing band weave their way through sensual ballads, vintage soul, rousing folk ditties, classic ’60s R&B and even a reggae shuffle. Yet despite their musical variety, the songs are united by a sense of warmth, subtlety and introspection that creates a consistently peaceful mood – perhaps a bit too effectively, though. At nearly 80 minutes in length, Amos’ eighth album does become more of a tangle with a hedgerow than a stroll in the park.
But persist and you’ll be rewarded with a consistently impressive collection of songs that might not provide instant gratification, but begin to bloom after repeated listens. The understated music and dense lyrics grow on you, as it were.
Obvious standout is ‘The Power of Orange Knickers’ – a pretty little duet between Amos and English folkster Damien Rice. Ostensibly dealing with female suicide bombers, it also questions who the real terrorist is in the world today. (A clue: there’s a W in his name).
But, as with most songs here, while a real understanding of the lyrical content adds further depth, it’s also possible to see words like “Am I alone in this kiss?” as those of relationship doubt that anyone can identify with.
The laidback ‘Mother Revolution’, meanwhile, has nothing to do with Russia, but deals with the power that women have to bring about change in the world – albeit more subtly than with the bombs and guns of the men in power.
Yet, more prevalent than the political themes are those of women’s historic role in Christianity – a new angle to a familiar lyrical subject for the daughter of a minister.
Drawing heavily from ancient religious texts is piano ballad ‘Original Sinsuality’, with traces of Bjork, which reinterprets the story of Eve, while the ebbs and flows of the mercurial ‘Marys of the Sea’ recount the story of Mary Magdalene’s voyage to France. ‘The Da Vinci Code’ anyone?
In truth Amos’ latest work is far more textured, elaborate and passionate – if not accessible – than Dan Brown’s international bestseller. You actually have to work to appreciate ‘The Beekeeper’ – but that only makes it an album you’ll end up cherishing rather than forgetting after a week. Sublime – even if the whole beekeeper thing is a bit silly and pretentious, really.
- This article originally appeared on iafrica.com.