Dear Tori,

It seems we’ve lost track of each other, doesn’t it? We’re all getting older, I suppose, and we want different things out of our lives. I want to be excited; I want to experiment; I want to do and see things that I have never dreamed of doing or seeing.

I have only your music to go on, but I don’t think you want those things anymore. Starting around the time of Scarlet’s Walk, you retreated into beauty and calm, using your music to support your poetry rather than the other way around. Your words are as potent as ever, but the growls, the screams, the experimentation with techno beats, the harpsichord, and almost every bit of the anger left a long time ago.

I resented you for this. At least, I did for a while.

As I listen to your new album Gold Dust, I think I’m done resenting you. You are older and wiser. The years have tempered your rage, but there is still some appreciation of the rage that once sifted its way through your music. “Precious Things”, more than 20 years after it was written, is no longer as cutting as it once was, but it is still an impressive piece of music, a study in scarlet, a look at Tori Amos playing the character of Tori Amos. There is still the piano, that brilliant motif that threads its way through the verses, and there is still the voice, growling for effect on “every nice girrrrrl”. But then, there is the orchestra, doing its best approximation of the rock ‘n roll setup that pounded its way through the original. There’s nothing wrong with the orchestra, really, but it’s not a surprise. Rather than the pure emotion of Little Earthquakes‘ version sifting through my speakers, this is the sound of the performance of emotion, an extra layer of disconnect from the audience.

You see, Tori, I no longer think you’re trying to disassociate yourself from the wild emotions of your youth. Rather, you’re contextualizing them, allowing them to be emblematic of their time, just as your more thoughtful revelations now are emblematic of this time.

Now Tori, I have to be honest. The treatments of a few of these songs don’t really resonate all that much, simply as a function of the fact that their presentation here doesn’t change much about them. “Jackie’s Strength” is a beautiful song in its original incarnation and it is a beautiful song here, but it’s a bit difficult to tell the two apart, save for the new vocal. Same goes for “Winter”, and for “Silent All These Years”. Granted, to change these most personal of songs in any significant way would be something like blasphemy, but their presence on a disc like this feels like collection at least as much as it does interpretation.

More effective is the orchestral treatment given to songs like opener “Flavor”, in which the trippy electronics of the original are replaced by an arrangement that offers new melodies and a steeper story arc, and “Cloud on My Tongue”, whose “Circles and Circles” epilogue is utterly stirring. Surprisingly enough, my favorite piece on the collection is “Star of Wonder”, a reinterpretation of a reinterpretation, in which I get to see you push your version of the old carol “We Three Kings” to tremendous, triumphant heights.

As usual, Tori, it’s difficult to discern your intent when it comes to a few of the decisions you made in the production of the album. For instance, I’m sure you had a reason for making this a studio album rather than a live one, despite the fact that the only parts of it that feel “studio” are your vocal overdubs and the lack of applause. And I’m sure you had a reason for knocking five minutes off of “Yes, Anastasia”, even if it feels like a bit of a lost opportunity for the orchestra to shine.

Still, it feels like folly to second guess you. Even children get older; I’m getting older too. Our motivations change, and even as we look back on the past, we have the privilege of seeing it as we are, rather than as we were. Gold Dust is your past as you are, rather than as you were. Perhaps it’s not the way I would see it, but I’m glad you have the clarity of vision to share it as such, rather than as something that people like me want it to be.

’til the next one,

Grade: B

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