ALBUM REVIEW: “OCEAN TO OCEAN” BY TORI AMOS
* * * * 4 out of 5 stars
Tori Amos’s music has always been a deeply personal affair. Her craft as a songwriter often reaches places within the human psyche that few others would dare dive deep enough to reach. In this new record, fans can expect the same honesty and vulnerability from the vibrant, flame-haired singer. Her 16th studio album Ocean To Ocean is a frank and autobiographical journey of loss and darkness, but also of the ever present glimmer of hope that shines ahead — when one dares to search for it.
This new, full length studio release sees a return to her collaboration with drummer Matt Chamberlain and bassist Jon Evans after an almost decade long hiatus. As a result, many of the songs have a renewed and satisfying fullness. A song like Spies for example, with its intricate bass from Evans, alongside Amos’s two note keyboard loop, creates a hypnotic soundscape which builds to a climatic intensity that only a live band could achieve. One-liners about “thieving meanies” and “hippopotamos must stay anonymous" show how the passing of time has done little to dampen her quirky musings.
Understandably, the passing of Amos’s beloved mother plays a central theme throughout the record, with Swim To New York State stirring our emotions in the way only a Tori Amos ballad can. We see faint echoes of past sounds from the likes of 1994’s Under The Pink here. Atypically, the primary hook is delivered in the verses, as she references the title and namechecks “the Cornish coast of England" as the distance she would swim to be reunited with the songs protagonist. It is filled with a delicious orchestral arrangement courtesy of John Philip Shenale, and it is a shining moment on the album. Swim To New York State is bold yet somehow fragile in its raw openness.
Elsewhere, in the surprisingly upbeat sounding Speaking With Trees, Amos sings of hiding her mother’s ashes under the treehouse, further lamenting as she sings “I will not let you go.” The track is somewhat reminiscent of her earlier work, where she so succinctly marries painful and sensitive lyrical content with offbeat pop hooks.
The ominous title track reads like a call to arms for those ready to confront many of the environmental and climate change issues that we are facing in today’s world. Of course this is not the first time Amos has displayed social-political commentary in her music, look no further than 2002’s Scarlet’s Walk for further examples of this. Both musicial and structural influences from the aforementioned album are very much felt here in the title track.
In 29 Years, we are pulled in with soul-stirring electric guitar provided, presumably, by her long time collaborator and husband Mark Hawley. There is, surprisingly, a very light sprinkling of a reggae infused vibe throughout the number (think more 1999’s Riot Poof than UB40). Amos’s gritty sounding vocals are delicious against the haunting production. “Time to diffuse bombs I planted in our bed, we can heal with forgiveness,” Amos wistfully croons. The song feels deeply personal as Amos appears to look back on a difficult memory, using her music to exorcise the issue.
“This year you survived it all,” Amos sings in final track, Birthday Baby. Fans are reminded of how expertly Amos can craft a satisfying, insidious hook, and the song is certainly a standout for being one of the album’s more overtly-melodious tracks. Sweeping strings serve as a delicious backing to the 4.5 minute journey in which Amos explores the ways in which a woman can be empowered through her own will, determination and self-belief.
Ultimately, there is a lot to love for the artist’s staunch fanbase in Ocean To Ocean. There are layers and flavours familiar to her previous sounds, but as always, Amos forges ahead with fresh, distinct styles and original takes on modern day struggles and themes. It’s easy to see why the singer has captivated her audience since the early 90s when she landed on the scene.
Ocean To Ocean serves as a reminder that she is as dynamic, inspired and motivated today as she was back then.