Album Reviews

Tori Amos – Unrepentant Geraldines

on May 15, 2014, 12:01am
Tori Amos Unrepentant Geraldines C+
Release Date
May 13, 2014
Label
Mercury Classics
Formats
digital, vinyl, cd
Buy it on amazon

Tori Amos restarted the conversation about art and aging as a woman, and the results are illuminating. This debate surges frequently, but female singer-songwriters of Amos’s stature face it perhaps more than others. While men are often revered and considered ruggedly handsome as they grow older, women have to battle the loss of their beauty, and often with it, their fame. Unrepentant Geraldines, her fourteenth album, personifies everything from the concept of trouble to the entirety of the United States, looking at their potential existence as women on “Trouble’s Lament” and “America”, respectively. Amos, now 50, has always been especially adept at transforming her personal life into majestic, surging dramas, and this album is no different.

Unrepentant Geraldines deftly combines her past forays into classical and orchestral music with the theatrics of her and Samuel Adamson’s adaptation of George MacDonald’s The Light Princess, but it’s never too tacky. Instead, the fantastical elements that inhabit tracks like “Maids of Elfen-Mere” and “Selkie” are woven in thick, rich threads, mimicking the structure of epic poems or Celtic story songs. Amos recorded the album in the Cornish countryside with her husband, Mark Hawley, and the album reflects that setting via springy strings, flutes, and lilting jigs. “Wedding Day” feels particularly Celtic, a retrospective on how love morphs with time. Amos has always had a taste for the supernatural and the ethereal, but these stories feel current too, as she folds issues like the NSA’s spying scandal into the doughy story of “Giant’s Rolling Pin”.

Although her lyrics on this album deal heavily in legendary and fictional elements, it also feels like they’re more connected to Amos’ own life than anything she’s written before. The songs that address aging are defiant in their descriptions, and specific enough to seem inextricably tied with her own life. On “16 Shades of Blue”, she addresses society’s marginalization. “You say get over it/ If 50 is the new black/ This could be your lucky day,” she sings, choosing her own current age rather than any other. Later, she speaks directly to those that would criticize: “There are some who say/ I am now too old to play.”

There are also plenty of references to the struggles that plague girls in their teens. Her 13-year-old daughter, Tash Hawley, even makes an appearance, singing the duet “Promise”, a song that offers an intimate look at a mother-daughter relationship from both perspectives. Hawley’s voice has a pop airiness to it, but also an opulence that’s reminiscent of diva-in-training Ariana Grande; based off the strength of her vocal performance on this song, it wouldn’t be surprising if she pursued a musical career of her own. Hawley’s voice, however, covers over the variation in Amos’ own vocal, as she swaps between clear, clean soprano and throatier alto ranges. At 50, her voice hasn’t grown thin or reedy, but it remains powerful, as showcased on the record’s most moving song, “Wild Way”, which turns the lyric “I hate you, I hate you, I do” into an admission of love purely based on tone.

Some artists struggle to reinvent themselves or adopt new fads at this point in their careers, but Amos feels very much like herself on this album, which is certainly part of her question: How does a woman in our society grow into her age gracefully while still demanding the right to be respected as an artist? On Unrepentant Geraldines, Amos does so by issuing art that refuses to compromise its intensely personal focus, in tone and topic. It pushes the boundaries of what we expect from older female artists by sheer force of will, and succeeds by embracing an expansive scope. Amos manages to weave her own mythology into larger fantastical stories, and fight societal norms in the process, all with a fierceness that will please old fans and likely win over new ones.

Essential Tracks: “Wild Way”, “Trouble’s Lament”, and “16 Shades of Blue”

22 comments

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Anonymous
July 16, 2014 at 4:15 pm

I’ve been Tori junkie since the very first album – I can remember a time in the early 90’s where I pretty much listened to little else. But I have to admit I’ve drifted over the past 10 years or so, something I thought was not possible! Even started to find her voice grating. However, this album changes all that. I am reminded once again what beautiful music this woman can make. I identify two duds, however. One is forgiveable (Giant’s Rolling Pin) which is just some of the silly fun Tori has been known to slip into her releases. The other, however, (Promise) I have a harder time with, mostly due to the guest vocals contributed by her daughter. Previous releases have included her vocals, given that she was 10 or under, I could dismiss it as cute. Now that she’s a teenager and obviously identifying with the pop “divas” more her contemporaries, we get Tori trading vocals with a Beyonce/Christina/Britney/Rihanna wanna-be, running vocal scales and acting, well, 13. C’mon Tori, I listen to you to get AWAY from that. Help her get her own contract if you want, but please leave her off your next album. If she wants a talented teenager to identify with, turn her on to Fiona Apple’s first album.

Leticia
June 18, 2014 at 11:15 am

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Sara
June 12, 2014 at 9:07 am

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Roman
June 10, 2014 at 12:25 pm

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PMG
June 10, 2014 at 8:41 am

This album has received mostly positive reviews, but I think a ‘C+’ is still a bit generous… The record is hugely overproduced, and the only stand-out track, ‘Trouble’s Lament’, sounds better live than on the album. ‘Promise’ is very out of place and seems to be listed simply for the sake of showcasing Tori’s daughter (who does indeed have a great voice, and R&B style). I had high expectations, hearing ‘Trouble’s Lament’ and ‘Selkie’ in Tori’s pre-release events but the album just doesn’t deliver. I wish someone would remove her vocal delay machine/pedal, whatever she uses, because that thing cheeses up some otherwise decent songs. I don’t know why Tori insists on killing her songs in production but it has never been more brazen than on ‘Unrepentant Geraldines’.

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June 10, 2014 at 3:23 am

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Anh
June 2, 2014 at 5:42 pm

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iawnaek
May 27, 2014 at 12:00 pm

The closing summary for this album by this reviewer indicates the album should get at least a B, not a C+.

ArtistLike (@Artistlike)
May 16, 2014 at 3:50 pm

I’m with everyone else…correct the grade here AND alert the editors at Metacritic. This false C+ artificially lowered Amos’s average score for this album, and that’s a real shame. The review copy reads as if the grade should be an A, not a C+. Correct it.

mattheworbit
May 16, 2014 at 12:26 am

I don’t think it’s her best by any means, but I do really appreciate the intimate, tender, piano moments. Some of her most honest, upfront and solid songwriting in so long is here. I found the guitar-y tracks a little awkward and embarrassing at first, but some of them have grown on me quite substantially. I’m a little confused by the C+ review too, with a seemingly good but aloof write-up.

Thomas
May 15, 2014 at 6:24 pm

Horrendous review…. Terrible in every way. Learn how to write!! Should be a B+ or higher.

Jake
May 15, 2014 at 8:26 pm

The review itself isn’t bad..it just doesn’t correlate with the grade given. Sheesh, no need to be so ugly. Nothing wrong with the review itself.

Jake
May 15, 2014 at 5:45 pm

An A+ review with a C+ score. WTF. Also, this album is beautiful. Welcome back, Tori.

Bruce Milne
May 15, 2014 at 5:38 pm

How on earth does this review equal C+? There’s basically nothing negative listed and lots of positives…

Crazy.

PS – Also, it IS a really fine album, the text review is much more apt than the C+…

Leonard Lewis
May 15, 2014 at 2:09 pm

I just listened to the entire album…your review is quite accurate but definately an A! One of the best Tori albums. Not because it is new but because it moves one deep inside and one can’t help but feel inspired and connected to psych.

bebop210
May 15, 2014 at 1:21 pm

B+ is what it’s supposed to say folks…

Jonas
May 15, 2014 at 11:12 am

A C+? It doesn’t make any sense when you read the highly positive review. This is bizarre.

JM
May 15, 2014 at 11:10 am

The review is practically glowing, but the grade is a C+? I guess CoS is too cool to admit to liking a Tori Amos album.

Adam
May 18, 2014 at 9:26 am

My guess too, the writer wanted a higher grade but the editors of CoS wouldn’t want to give it a high grade.

Zachary Santoni
May 15, 2014 at 9:59 am

You literally have nothing bad to say but give the album a C+. This makes no sense. Critique something if you are going to give it a low score :-)

dan
May 15, 2014 at 5:33 am

I don’t listen to Tori Amos and I haven’t heard any of this album but for the uninitiated this is how COS of sound works. The bigger your name the lower your grade. The weirder/more obscure you are the higher the grade. Way to go hipsters!

Anonymous
May 15, 2014 at 9:59 am

How does this review, which lacks any real criticism, align with a C+ score? Seems kinda random.
If I had read the review, without having seen the score, I’d have expected something much higher.

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