The confessional Tori Amos of the past has made a move toward a more ruminative songwriting philosophy. The newer contemplative gestures make Scarlet's Walk, Amos' newest record, a meditative stroll through American landscapes.
Some of the metaphorical places Amos visits in Walk aren't new, but they are laced with new perspective removed from her past work. The piano chanteuse's emotional explosions are framed with a mature hindsight that her previous albums lacked. And it centers her.
Scarlet's Walk waddles in at more than an hour long but never loses its audience. The disc starts with the objectification of women, a familiar theme for Amos. In "Amber Waves," named after Julianne Moore's coke-addled, sympathetic character in Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights, Amos combines both mythical America and its stark realities. The song follows a young dancer to Los Angeles and her subsequent demise at the hands of pornography. Amos also lifts the song's last line from Stevie Smith's desperate poem "Not Waving but Drowning" -- an appropriate, melancholic ending to the song.
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Not unlike Norah Jones, Amos reinvents cool jazz on "Your Cloud," and, borrowing from Native Americans, she creates a lamenting hymn with "Wampum Prayer," evoking an absent drum circle -- the song is sung a cappella -- as much as the plaintive Deep South wailing of Ralph Stanley.
Although Amos doesn't shy away from righteous proclamations on Scarlet, when she does preach she does it with an even hand, partially avoiding her heavy-handed didacticism. Amos struggles to make the phrase "closet misogynist homophobe" poetic on "Pancake," but she somehow saves the song with her cryptic lyricism. The storytelling persona Amos creates on Scarlet sidesteps her old politicized habits, suggesting she has evolved into something more complicated.