Happy 15th Anniversary to Tori Amos’ seventh studio album Scarlet’s Walk, originally released in the UK October 28, 2002 and in the US October 29, 2002.
After a protracted struggle with the label that launched her career, Atlantic Records, at the turn of the century, Tori Amos managed to come out on the other side of a particularly nasty industry dust-up relatively unscathed. The vocalist/pianist’s fresh start commenced the genesis cycle of Scarlet's Walk—her seventh studio album and first for Epic Records—on a positive note, but the album also had some of its origins linked to tragedy. Like others, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 touched Amos. But it would be wrong to assume that Amos' overall approach to or study of human behavior was drastically altered by 9/11. What 9/11 became was the conceptual umbrella for which all the material of Scarlet's Walk resided under.
The source of the songs is the fictional protagonist Scarlet, based loosely on Amos herself. Scarlet engages in a “walkabout” of America after 9/11 and the album logs her journey and the people, places and things she encounters along the way. By adjusting the frequency of her conceptual style to a more plainspoken lyrical approach with just a bit of an allegorical twist, it makes the album personal, but universal. “I Can't See New York” embodies the best of this spirit, criss-crossing between romantic conflict, Native American lore, and hints of the 9/11 crisis from a victim's perspective. On the latter songwriting tip of “I Can't See New York,” Amos has stated that the song had been created prior to the attacks. But that's the beauty of an Amos composition—it leaves itself open to interpretation. This song also makes it evident that Amos isn't just Scarlet, she's play acting as the entire cast of characters throughout the record too.
Elsewhere, there are songs about love gained and lost (“A Sorta Fairytale,” “Your Cloud”) and the bonds of sisterhood (“Carbon,” “Don't Make Me Come to Vegas”). Amos examines revisionist American history and the ramifications of its so-called “patriotic” identity on citizens classified as “other” on “Pancake,” “Taxi Ride” and “Scarlet's Walk.”
Now, how did the actual music factor into supporting these narratives?
Produced by Amos, she guides the arrangements toward an earthy, majestic mixture of bass rhythms, drums, a host of percussive flavors, guitar, strings and, of course, piano. Spotlighting the piano, Amos holds fast as a rare talent, her usage of her beloved Bösendorfer, Wurlitzer, and Fender Rhodes permeating every part of Scarlet's Walk. Singling out two of the gathered session musicians for the album—Matt Chamberlain (drums, percussion) and Jon Evans (bass)— their contributions to Scarlet's Walk help to preserve the sonic complexity Amos' work is known for. In Amos' 2005 semi-autobiography “Piece by Piece,” co-penned with music journalist Ann Powers, Powers detailed the Amos/Chamberlain/Evans dynamic succinctly, “a jazz-style trio that rocks like a thunderstorm.”
Long player length, for the first time, was not a stumbling block for Amos. Every song connects to the other. From the opening pop-folk-rock salvo of “Amber Waves,” to the orchestral-rich conclusion of “Gold Dust,” Scarlet's Walk is an inviting, impressive pop spread encompassing country, jazz, and classical music. The set's inaugural single “A Sorta Fairytale” became Amos' most sizable radio hit in years. Three more singles fell in sequence behind “A Sorta Fairytale”—“Taxi Ride,” “Don't Make Me Come to Vegas,” and “Strange.” None of them overtook the success of “A Sorta Fairytale,” but the album still garnered gold certification in the United States nevertheless.
Leftovers were plentiful from Scarlet's Walk too. “Operation Peter Pan” appeared on the flipside of “A Sorta Fairytale.” “Mountain” was an exclusive, “website-only” download for fans. A remaining cache of six cuts from the Scarlet's Walk era—“Tombigbee,” “Bug a Martini,” “Ruby Through the Looking Glass,” “Apollo's Frock,” “Seaside,” “Indian Summer”—were anthologized on a physical EP entitled Scarlet's Hidden Treasures. The EP was included with a May 2004 Amos concert DVD release called Welcome to Sunny Florida. The DVD captured the final stop on September 4, 2003 in Orlando, Florida for the “On Scarlet's Walk / Lottapianos Tour.”
Fifteen years after its public debut in the fall of 2002, there's still really nothing like Scarlet's Walk in Amos' discography. Possessing an air of grace, impeccable musicianship and storytelling, it's an essential album for longtime followers and Amos neophytes alike.