Hard work, but this is an album which reveals rewards.
Nick Levine 2011-09-20
This album is hard work. Night of Hunters is billed as a "21st century song cycle inspired by select classical pieces spanning the last 400 years". "The protagonist", as Tori Amos describes the character she plays here, is "a woman who finds herself in the dying embers of a relationship". During the course of a single eventful night, she experiences "an initiation of sorts that leads her to reinvent herself" – apparently "allowing the listener to follow her on a journey to explore complex musical and emotional subject matter".
Phew indeed! That Amos recently furnished her personal website with a 1,300-word track-by-track explanation is telling. As is the fact she's recruited her 10-year-old daughter to play a shape-shifting character called Anabelle who appears before Amos – sorry, "the protagonist" – as both a fox and a goose.
Night of Hunters is Amos' 12th studio album, but her first for prestigious German classical label Deutsche Grammophon and, not coincidentally, her first exclusively acoustic effort. This serial self-producer utilises a string quartet for drama, and sundry woodwind instruments to provide otherworldliness, but the album's musical core is the singer and her piano. Nearly two decades after Little Earthquakes, Amos' voice remains uncommonly evocative – and as strangely ageless as her face on the Night of Hunters album cover.
At first, her "21st century song cycle" seems as dense and impenetrable as an overgrown garden. However, after several listens, the narrative starts to take shape and moments of musical mastery emerge. Shattering Sea opens proceedings in tense, dramatic fashion; Job's Coffin is as gothically pretty as a vamp girl from the Twilight films; and Your Ghost – on which "the protagonist" dreams about wedding her partner's spirit – houses a lovely, almost hymnal melody.
There's also the odd lyrical refrain that really lingers: "Every couple has their version of what they call the truth," Amos repeats intriguingly on Cactus Practice – a song that's more haunting than its gimmicky title would seem to permit.
But whether you're inclined to invest the time that Night of Hunters requires, of course, will depend on how you perceive its conceit – is this Amos' most ambitious project yet, or just another exercise in creative self-indulgence? Either way, if you're no fan of the fey and fantastical, you're best off fleeing. Still interested? Well, hard work it may be, but it's not without its rewards.