By now all the friends and foes of Tori Amos are well aware that she’s going to do what she pleases. After the recent “Abnormally Attracted to Sin” made it at least a dozen albums under her belt (not counting remixed compilations), there’s a score of nits to pick on the multitextured tapestry of Amos’s oeuvre: She’s frequently melodramatic; unfocused; too coy and/or clever by half; purposefully, perhaps lazily, abstruse with her lyrics; and faux-outrageous. Worst of all, she’s occasionally boring, a cookie-cutter Lilith Fair warbler who believes female navels make for deeper gazing.
But then there’s all that substance — the succulent meat to be found in the hundred-plus original songs in her arsenal. From the start, Amos has fearlessly tackled the gamiest topics, be it sex or religion or the thin, violent line between love and hate. She has offered up grand concept albums that leave a memorable mark even when they mostly fail (a la the jumbled, overly literary “The Beekeeper” from 2005), and resonate with timeless vitality when they mostly hit — check out the gender jiujitsu of the “Strange Little Girls” collection of covers from 2001, or the personal and geographical travelogue, “Scarlett’s Walk,” a year later.
On the next-to-last song of her first record, “Little Earthquakes,” back in 1992, Amos sang a harrowing, a cappella description of her own rape experience, entitled “Me and a Gun,” that earned her the undying love and loyalty of a core group of her audience. But Amos worked heroically to diminish it — the experience and the song — to a footnote in her life and career, the hallmark of triumphant survival over victimization.
Now in her mid-forties, her flaming red hair may be a dye-job for all I know, but the robust range of her voice — which can reach high enough to reflectively provoke Kate Bush comparisons — the rocking grandeur of her piano, and the desire for stylistic diversity, from electronica to folk to rock to classical flourishes, remains vibrant down to the roots. That said, my favorite Amos disc is the relatively obscure “From the Choirgirl Hotel” (1998), when she first strapped a full band on to her tunes and left me wondering if “Ieee” and “Playboy Mommy” were about her then-recent miscarriage, while leaving no doubts about the sexual swagger of “Raspberry Swirl.”
Odds are none will be played tonight at the State Theatre, because Amos frequently features the material on her latest release. Yet it isn’t even likely she’ll perform “Lady in Blue,” the 17th and final track on “Abnormally Attracted,” with its unique mix of pretty strings and dungeon and dragon beats tied up in an electronica bow. Critics have carped that the album is too long, too thematically scrambled, and too self-indulgent for its own good. They’re right, but ultimately it won’t matter when Tori Amos is in the house.
Here is Amos opening the Los Angeles stop in her “Sinful Attraction” tour with “Give” from the new album. Here is a marvelous link to all of Amos’s lyrics. And here is her MySpace page featuring many of the songs from the new disc.
Tori Amos at the State Theatre, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 7:30 p.m.; $27.50-$55.