Tori Amos, "Unrepentant Geraldines" (Mercury Classics)
Tori Amos' 14th album marks a return to her traditional approach -- some call it "chamber pop" -- after a 2011 experiment with classical music.
The piano playing and singing on "Unrepentant Geraldines" are strong and straightforward, with Amos' sure touch and confessional approach, while the lyrics can be dense and occasionally confounding even as they deal with the rigors of aging and the challenges women of all ages face in a male-dominated, youth-obsessed society.
The songs do not offer simple answers, but there is pleasure and joy in the process, and warmth in her descriptions of the challenging relationships she describes. And, as she deals with turning 50, Amos offers hope to others by suggesting in song that 50 may be "the new black."
She takes many of her cues from visual artists, including "16 Shades of Blue" -- a reference to a painter's palette -- and the title track is inspired by an etching by a 19th-century Irish artist.
The first is a plaintive, multitracked dissection of a slow motion breakup tinged with the complaint that "there are those who say that I'm too old to play" that also chronicles the pressures women feel at 15 and 33. The second is about the quest for freedom, with an attack on corporate greed and the vow that "I'm going to heal myself from your religion." Both are beautifully produced and arranged, as is "Promise," a somehow optimistic song about loss that showcases a call and response approach with the plea, "Promise not to say that I'm getting too old."
Far less effective is the sometimes cloying "Giant's Rolling Pin," with easy digs at the NSA and FBI and a child-friendly rhythm reminiscent of some of the weaker songs on the Beatles' "Abbey Road."