Ocean To Ocean
For her first new set of songs in about four years, and her 16th studio album, Tori Amos is, as always, recognisable. This is her. She hasn’t ever really messed with the format – she makes piano-led songs, the vocals and her musical voice so distinctive. But Ocean To Ocean speaks to me more directly than anything she’s released across the last two decades. It’s also more succinct – so that helps. A short album, by Amos standards, Ocean is just 11 songs, 47 minutes, she’s often lost me as records stretch way past 55-60 minutes…
Ocean is also a very straightforward-sounding record. Soft-rock furnishings adorn these songs, the old team back – Matt Chamberlain on drums, Jon Evans on bass and husband Mark Hawley engineering and playing guitar. Amos’ piano is more meat and potatoes here – the muscle that holds the sinew of the songs.
The grief of losing a best friend and also her mother in the last two years, and the suspended grief of living in lockdown/s; those are the themes. On Swim To New York State she even articulates the fragility of dreaming for just one day and being prepared to swim all the way, as she reflects on missing America, holed up in England. These are AOR ballads, never mawkish but sentimentality is stirred throughout.
I think of this as being such a direct link back to the essence of Tori as writer and performer that Ocean feels not just like a sequel to Venus and Back but a grown-up version of what the lead singer of Y Kant Tori Read might have written and recorded (well, of course, technically she did; that is what has happened).
That nagging influence of Kate Bush is still here too – and why not! Both Flowers Burn To Gold and Metal Water Wood feel like the more recent Bush, all hushed and lovely.
And speaking of ‘sequel’ volumes, 29 Years visits the story first told publicly in Me and a Gun – Amos has always been advocating, has always been re-telling her story and shining a light on so many others. But this feels like a form of musical closure.
The album feels like that in fact. A rebirth, a restart, a reminder of a singular talent.
I’ve loved having these songs in my ears for days on end. And I look forward to spending even more time with this wonderful new album, not so much a ‘return to form’ as a reminder of the form. It’s been there always. But the cherry-picking here, the producing and arranging, the playing, the editing, the paring back – it all feels so vital, so close to perfect.