Tori Amos: Ocean to Ocean – Introspective gems born in lockdown

Fri, Oct 29, 2021, 17:11


Ocean To Ocean

Tori Amos

Decca Records


The “lockdown album” triggers a certain level of fatigue because lockdowns and, indeed, time have reached an emotional plateau. Another month of misery, is it? Grand. But let’s add Tori Amos’s 16th album into the worthy pile before we move on, if moving on is possible.  

Amos has long spilled her soul into twisted, piano-led balladry and achieved a status that meant she was almost always touring, but when that came to a halt last year, she entered her own “private hell”. Living in Cornwall, she wintered out 2020 and 2021 with her husband, Mark, their adult daughter and her boyfriend, but with no performance outlet and an ocean between her and her family in America, the stillness unsettled the 58-year-old.

Dreaming of reunions “Here from London up to Aberdeen, ferry to Dublin, all the way down to Skibbereen” on the lullaby Spies, the distance spun her into a fictional world, swearing that she would cross the Atlantic “for even just a day” on Swim to New York State. But reality punctures her flights of fancy.

“How am I coping?” she asks on Speaking with Trees, an open question that becomes specific to the death of her mother, Mary Ellen, in 2019. The trees she counted on her daily Cornish walks “ignited memories” of the treehouse in Florida where her mother’s ashes are buried. Her delayed mourning arrived just as the third lockdown began in the UK, and to preserve her mother’s memory she gently traces her outline on Flowers Turn to Gold.

Amos was raised in Baltimore by Mary Ellen and her Methodist pastor father, Edison, and she became the youngest student ever admitted to the Peabody Conservatory of Music at the age of five to study classical piano. However, she was asked to leave when she was 11, due to her love of rock music and rebelliousness. Immediate success met her upon the release of her 1992 debut album Little Earthquakes. Riding the grunge wave, her gothic music explores themes of religion, identity and sexual assault and she revisits these themes on Ocean to Ocean.  

The song 29 Years is a look back at the rape she experienced as a young woman. A reggae rhythm recounts the past – “how does this happen?” – but a swell of strings sees her find the version of herself she feared she had lost. However, Amos wields the power of a storm. Celebrating independence on the tango Birthday Baby, she remembers her survival skills in a moment of fragility and sharpens them for a new age.