Fifteen albums across 25 years―if one dismisses the 1988 hair metal faux pas Y Kant Tori Read―and Tori Amos is still a thrill. As time passes for an artist of Amos' stature, her followers form factions, expressing approval―or disapproval―of particular albums or periods in said artist's canon. Accusations of refinement versus experimentation for the mass of Amos' post-American Doll Posse (2007) output have been leveled. Native Invader is that 15th album and depending on which stated faction the listener falls into, one will either love or loathe the long player.
Native Invader slightly separates from the pack of Amos' preceding albums by positioning itself as dually cultivated and playful in its sonic posture. Environmental, gender and societal conversations are all on deck for the record, a concerned reaction to the attack on progressive American culture by straight, white male privilege run amok in 2017. Scarlet's Walk (2002) and American Doll Posse petitioned for the soul of America in the past, especially when in the stranglehold of toxic masculinity. But where one LP was contemplative and another was confrontational, Native Invader's contents are emotionality tiered, thus, the performances are pitched between bittersweet acceptance of the inevitable and hearty defiance. In short, the project is political, but then again, every album for Amos has been political.
How are all these ideas and feelings musically brought into being? The piano is still the center of everything for Amos, the aural chassis so to speak. Amos builds on top of, and around, this nucleus with electronic pop (“Wings”), bluesy, alternative rock (“Cloud Riders”) and classical (“Reindeer King”) sounds. Drawing closer attention to some of the synthetic aesthetics of Native Invader at work on “Wings,” “Up the Creek” and “Bats,” they're wonderfully composed by Amos. By combining natural and artificial musical flavors, these song entries are enticing and will recall compositions found on From the Choirgirl Hotel (1998) and Abnormally Attracted to Sin (2009).
A small sect of interpersonal songs briefly break away from the dystopian feel of the album's main theme, striking the best balance between the allegorical and the direct, lyrically speaking. Both “Chocolate Song” and “Mary's Eyes” address Amos' fears, concerns, struggles and eventual clarity toward the intricacies of her own marriage, as well as her mother's deteriorating health. The deluxe edition of Native Invader expands past its original coda of “Mary's Eyes” with “Upside Down 2” and “Russia.” The two tracks are worthy of inclusion on the album proper, but running as they do behind the wistful “Mary's Eyes,” they come off almost disrespectful to that song's story.
Without question, Native Invader will keep conversations apace with Amos' fans. With respect to its own legacy within her discography, Native Invader is Amos' sharpest set, complementary to what came before, but with its spirit stirred by the moment.
Notable Tracks: “Bats” | “Mary’s Eyes” | “Reindeer King” | “Wings”