Just three years ago, singer-songwriter Tori Amos released an album of original material for the first time since 2009’s ‘Abnormally Attracted to Sin.’ 2014’s ‘Unrepentant Geraldines’ marked a return to the baroque sound so many love her for, and ushered in yet another glorious tour. In 2016, Tori embarked on a road trip through the Smoky Mountain range in an effort to retrace the song lines that were taught to her by her Cherokee grandfather, and this became the basis for her new music. However, this plan was knocked from its axis following two seismic events. The first was the fallout of the 2016 US election, and the second was a stroke that her mother, Mary, suffered near the beginning of 2017. Never one to give up, however, Tori took these two events and wove them seamlessly into the narrative of the music created following her 2016 road trip. What resulted was an album of protest, resilience, freedom, and optimism.
Tori’s new album, ‘Native Invader,’ looks to Mother Nature and her strength, and how we can learn from the natural forces so we can weather the storms we find ourselves in. The opening track, “Reindeer King,” is a 7 minute piano epic that will likely become a staple in Tori’s catalogue in years to come. The scene is painted in a frosty tundra where we find ourselves in the position of a crystal core, whose Tori states is “at the still point of the turning world.” One could say this song has bloodlines that run all the way back to Tori’s 1992 “Winter,” a comparison Tori herself has even made. “Broken Arrow” is where Tori really shakes things up, asking us if we have lost Lady Liberty against the backdrop of a wah-wah guitar played by her husband Mark. Tori lets us know that she’s “not letting go”, because as she says, “ancient song lines are singing to wake Lady Liberty.” Brisk, Beatles-esque guitars mark the beginning of the next track, “Cloud Riders,” the album’s lead single that compares the tense situations in everyday life, such as arguments with a friend, to the forces of a storm. Storms can be small and quick, and they can be strong and cataclysmic, and the same can be said when we find ourselves opposing those close to us. Once again, however, Tori sings of her own refusal to give up after seeing a “shooting start at 4:22 AM.” Tori’s daughter, Tash, joins Tori in “Up the Creek,” a song written in the aftermath of the US pulling out of the Paris Agreement. Amidst swift string instruments and vocal distortions, Tash utters the phrase “good lord willing and the creek don’t rise,” a phrase that Tori learned from her grandfather. Tash wanted to be a part of this song, because it will be her generation dealing with the consequences of the choices made by those in power now, and she wants us to know that she’s ready to fight for our home. Meanwhile, on the guitar infused “Bang,” Tori tackles the hot button topic of immigration. Inspired by the playing of legendary guitarist Frank Zappa and famed scientist Carl Sagan, Tori takes the stance that every single human is an immigrant themselves, with the stardust in our DNA signaling that our shared origins lie within the cosmos.
Perhaps the most personal songs from here are “Breakaway,” which gives way to Tori singing among her piano notes about the personal relationships that were strained following the 2016 US election as people argue over their own beliefs, “Chocolate Song,” which criticizes the way we use our words against each other as weaponry, and the beautiful “Mary’s Eyes,” praised by many as one of the best songs on the record. “Mary’s Eyes” gives us a glimpse into the life of Tori’s mother, Mary, and how she now struggles with the ability to talk following her stroke. Tori insists in the song that Mary must not see you cry, because she doesn’t want to diminish her mother’s strength. The most touching moment here is when Tori insists that the old hymns taught to her by Mary are the key to her memories, as she tries her best to get her mother to remember the timeless “Joy to the World.” Less focused on Tori’s own life is the quirky “Benjamin,” where Tori elaborates on the fossil fuel industry’s globalization as so many people in power remain blind to the reality of climate change amidst the technical sounds of what sounds like a drone. The deluxe edition contains two bonus tracks, titled “Upside Down 2” and “Russia.” The latter seems to not actually bear any relation to 1992’s “Upside Down,” though it’s a beautiful song of finding happiness in troubling times that shouldn’t be missed. The final track, “Russia,” is a touching number that asks those in Washington “is Stalin on your shoulder?” before uttering the album title in the line “time to wake, activate our Native Invader.”
Through and through, “Native Invader” contains many brilliant moments, and let’s us know that we should never give up. Tori’s determination and fearlessness here can be traced back to records such as “Scarlet’s Walk” and “American Doll Posse,” while musically there seems to be connections to “From the Choirgirl Hotel,” making for Tori’s most solid album in a decade.