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Review: "Native Invaders" - Tori Amos

by Jeremy Williams-Chalmers,

Tori Amos is a serial non-conformist. Although when launched by her record label in the 90s she was heralded as a girl with a piano, she has never played ball with the all-too-common creative restrictions labels craft for their rosters to ensure a continuity within their material for maximum commercial success. Instead she has consistently rebelled against classifications to be allowed to deliver her consistently acclaimed personal and social observations in whatever shape or form she chooses. While the piano has been her constant, it has never been her defining feature. She is much more than just a singer/songwriter, she is a conscious artist with an ever-changing vision and an insight that resonates with her extremely loyal audience. Rather than being perturbed by her lack of constant sound, they are excited by not knowing what she will do next. With the arrival of her fifteenth studio album, Native Invader, once again her fanbase are met with a new, exciting and fresh outlook to fully digest and understand.

Native Invaders is no exception to the rule. Yes, it does have echoes of her earlier releases, but no, it does not feel as if it is re-treading any ground she has already walked. This is an expression of Tori today and the world that surrounds her today. For those that are desperate for some sort of closer sound comparative, Native Invaders is in ways a continuation of the soft rock sound that Tori started to explore on Unrepentant Geraldines, with a mellow and reflective tone but with far more inspired lyrics and a more cohesive and compact track listing.

With her husband Mark Hawley prominent on guitar, he never oversteps the mark and allows the songs to take the lead as opposed to his skilled playing. This is best exemplified on Wildwood, where his fuzzy distortion feeds into the emotional prowess of Tori's vulnerable vocal. At the flipside, his presence on Broken Arrow, which is a haunting organ driven number, almost overrides the mood of the song and detracts from its impact.

Guitar complaints aside, this is a record filled with several highs. Having regularly duetted with her daughter Tash, Native Invaders is no exception. Up The Creek is the finest moment on the album and the beauty of their intertwined vocals begs the question of when a fully collaborative release will be delivered. While the collection veers away from piano prominence, the other truly magical moment comes in the shape of album closer Mary's Eyes. A sparse classical drive akin to her very earliest recordings, this is a beautiful ode to her mother, discussing tenderly the nerves of of the wait after her mother's recent stroke.

Native Invaders is as perfectly unpredictable as her back catalogue, but brings back a touch of the early magic that has been a little missing on her last few releases. This really is a must-listen.