Have you ever listened to a Tori Amos record? If so, then you know exactly what to expect from Ocean to Ocean. Amos has had a fairly consistent track record of releasing a new album every two-to-three years since her phenomenal debut Little Earthquakes in 1992, so, for fans, there’s been a bit of wait for this one, with her previous album, Native Invader, releasing just over four years ago. Is Ocean to Ocean worth the wait? Yeah, sure.
A major criticism of well-established artists is that they can find a motif that works for them and then spend album-after album in that comfortable funk without needing to offer more. It may seem that Amos is getting a pass on such a thing, but there’s a big difference. For most artists, there’s a cynical and perfunctory edge to just going into a studio and dumping out an album of music that sounds derivative of their last four. With Amos, there’s a true sincerity to her music and her as a person, where it feels like she’s really trying to express herself to her audience and give them a message that will inspire hope and make them better people for having listened to it. Besides, it’s not like you can accuse Tori Amos of all people of being too conventional. “Conventional” to Amos would be considered “experimental” to many others.
And, for what it’s worth, Ocean to Ocean is not a cynical and perfunctory album: it’s full of emotion that’s assiduous and sincere, and it’s effective, and it works. However, suppose you’ve ever listened to any of her previous albums. In that case, you won’t be surprised by what this one offers: an experimental, earth-infused, folky Americana, sombre-and-sweet, ballad-prone, alternative piano album, accompanied by really earnest lyrics with feminist themes and allusions to spirituality. It’s a winning formula - and if it’s not broke, don’t fix it - but you’ve definitely heard it before.
Songs like “Addition of Light Divides,” “Swim to New York State,” “Flowers Burn to Gold,” “29 Years,” “How Glass is Made,” and “Birthday Baby” are just beautiful. The closing song “Birthday Baby” has a cinematic quality to it, almost like it is Amos’s audition to do the theme song for the next Bond film, but it’s also so very devastating and heart-breaking. Songs like “Spies” and “Speaking with Trees” manage to really get the blood flowing and make the hair on the back of your neck stick up, as Amos often does with her melodies, and the latter has an amazing and unique chord progression. “Metal Water Wood” is probably the most musically exploratory track on the album, with a very glassy piano and guitar and a soft, trepidations musicality that feels like the song could fall over and smash into a million pieces if you’re not careful around it or make too loud of a noise.
The title track “Ocean to Ocean” carries a very anti-capitalist message. Amos pointedly stated that unlimited extraction of limited resources is killing the planet, and the ones in charge don’t care as long as they’re making money. Again, despite sounding familiar, every track is very, very good in their own way and makes you a better person for listening to them.
Ocean to Ocean doesn’t greatly shake things up or break any moulds, but that was probably never its intent. Already-established Amos fans will almost certainly love it and be glad that she’s back. It will most likely be appreciated by outsiders who get the opportunity to listen to it too. It’s nowhere near as revolutionary or intriguing or with the awe-inspiring moments of albums like Little Earthquakes, Under the Pink, or Boys for Pele, nor does it have their glaring stand-out tracks for hit singles. However, it’s still damn good, because it’s Tori Amos, and Tori Amos is damn good, and we should be appreciative that she is still around and making music because her music is damn good.
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