When Tori Amos is emotionally tormented, either on a personal note or a political one, you bet your life that there will be some mesmerizing songs written (Mind you, being able to fully appreciate a Tori Amos album takes patience and a refined taste). In her nearly quarter-of-a-centery career, she has delivered a number of breath-taking albums - Boys For Pele (1996) after her split with soulmate Eric Rosse, from the Choirgirl hotel (1998) after several miscarriages and Scarlet's Walk (2001) after 9/11 had placed the United States of America at a political crossroad. Her 15th studio album Native Invader in many ways is her most politically-charged work to date. After 2014's somewhat lukewarm Unrepentant Geraldines, propelled by the disasterous presidential election last november as well as her mother's severe strokes leaving her unable to speak, Amos looked to Mother Nature for solutions and solace on this gorgeous body of work, which adds a strong sense of purpose, direction and urgency to it.
"I've just come from the Reindeer King"
The album opener Reindeer King could arguably be one of her strongest songs in her entire career. 'Crystal Core, your mind has been divided from your soul' she lulls, adding mystery and grieve to the misty sonic landscape, Soon afterwards, listeners are taken to a sonic world as heterogeneous as Björk's Post (1995), with playful electronics, psychedelic electric guitars and sometimes vigorous percussions, an attempt at 'bringing the buffalos across the plains into your headphones'. On the metropolitan Broken Arrow embroidered by wah-wah guitar sound effects sees Tori lamenting certain inviduals' vicious attempt to trample the values Lady Liberty stands for and reminding us to listen to the ancient songlines for wisdom to survive this political storm. Then, Amos infuses Up the Creek, a duet with daughter Natashya Hawley on the subject of climate change denial, with a frustration born of corporate greed and perhaps directly as a result of Donald Trump's messy withdrawl from the Paris Agreement. 'Her uncorrupted soul will not be possessed or owned' The decision to place Hawley on this song is wise, for her strong commitment to this issue is sincere and offers a sense of hope that the younger generations are waking up and rallying to the cause. Amos' unrestrained piano interlude kicks in against the stormy electronic beats towards the end of the song, serving as a distant reminder of her worshipped piano improvisation on Iieee and the fury Pre-Scarlet's Walk Tori held. And last but not least, the highly dramatic Bang is undoubtedly one of the highlights on Native Invader. A song on the immigration conundrum inspired by American cosmologist Carl Sagan, Bang suggests that we are all made of stars and at the end of the day, that is all it matters. Her recitation of the entire periodic table, an effort bearing close resemblace to 1999's Datura, offers a momentary bliss before the last line drops - 'all I wanna be, a Molecular Machine' - showcasing the eccentricity and vagary she is best known for.
"So bright it blinded me, I had to shield my eyes"
Despite a few stumbles and falls - the somewhat awkward and poorly written Wings and Benjamin, Native Invader is definitely one of her strongest albums since 2002. A vivid documentation of the Trump-era, it seems to tell us that the personal is political and the political is unquestionably personal.
Ps. A message to some listeners on Douban (and certainly not a condescending one): Over the years, I have noticed that many listeners/fans of Tori Amos tend to merely focus on the sounds of her music. Everybody has a right to express their opinions for sure, but as I mentioned in my review, being able to fully appreciate her music requires a lot of patience and willingness to do some research. Saying that the album sucks before even knowing what the songs are about, to me, shows a lack of respect for Tori Amos as a musician who spent a long time crafting her work. And typically with a politically-charged record like Native Invader, if the sounds are the only focal point, then I'm sorry you have completely missed the point.