The Spinners

The Beekeeper (Tori Amos, 2005)

In Alternative Rock, American, Frances Mae Ramos, Piano, Soul on February 1, 2010 at 3:41 am

Almost as a rule Tori Amos does not simplify the listening experience. Albums such as Scarlet’s Walk, Under the Pink, and American Doll Posse are exercises on strained listening if one attempts to pick out a melody from her uncompartmentalized bric-a-brac of notes and musical devices.

But in The Beekeeper, the album that generated a more mainstream audience than her usual following, Amos distills her melodies from the artisanal bombardments that skilled and talented musicians tend to overdo. Amos herself is known for delivering live performances in dual keyboards, so we had reason to expect that she would be hitting every note there is in this album. While there are dregs of this stylistic discontent in tracks such as “Toast” and “Witness”, both of which establish her reputation as a wayward musical sophisticate, she pares her talent to its purest best in the other songs.

These songs are such digestives that one can chew on the lyrics without puzzling over their edibility. But it’s only when you swallow words like Baby is it sweet sweet sweet the sting / is it real this infusion / can it heal where others before have failed that you begin to ponder their complex nutritional value to your musical health. There are other artists before Amos who could say the same line with the poetic equivalent of simple carbohydrates, but The Beekeeper is no starch: at the core of such whole melodies are real musings of an insightful musician and self-aware social critic. Who would have thought that ideas about terrorism could be discussed and driven home with a title such as “The Power of Orange Knickers?” Or that unrequited love could trickle into a drink-song called “Martha’s Foolish Ginger?” Those metaphors are probably the most tasteful palliatives in a feast dominated by the emotional brashness and linguistic foolishness of young, manufactured pop stars.

Songs such as “Barons of Suburbia” and “Witness” could be considered meaty servings, imbued with a flavorful selection of fine notes stuffed with poetic, figurative lyrics. These songs also offer Amos’ rolling keyboard athletics, which are notably absent in the others that describe more the mellifluous and placid streams of her artistic countenance. For instance, in “Goodbye Pisces”, her piano is bare accompaniment to the emphatic vocals and the persistence of the electric guitar. But the opening track “Parasol” is the album’s ballad par excellence; it produces an image of Tori, which, bright red hair and strong vocals aside, begins The Beekeeper’s narration.

Allusions run aplenty in this album, but they are neither pretentious nor politically correct. The songs hark back to the singer’s traveling days, so we know Tori Amos a bit better, but we forget how much she’s done without truly seeping into the consciousness of the mainstream. With The Beekeeper she feeds effortlessly into all kinds of moods, and she’s truly a better artist for it.

– Frances Mae Ramos

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