There's a sense of coming full circle to this album. As a child, Tori Amos won a scholarship to the Peabody Institute in Baltimore, one of America's top classical music schools. But she lost her place aged 11, the story goes, because she hated reading sheet music and got hooked on pop.
This wilful streak has never really left Amos. Since breaking through with 1992's Little Earthquakes, the flame-haired piano maven has always danced to her own tune. She's released concept albums, tinkered with electronica, covered an Eminem single, and even had a spell as a club diva. Last year, Amos returned to her classical roots with a "21st century song cycle" called Night of Hunters.
For this new album, Amos is looking back. Gold Dust features 14 tracks from her past, re-recorded with new arrangements courtesy of the Netherlands-based Metropole Orchestra. These songs are based on, says Amos, "conversations I've had with people over the years". As concepts go, it's loose as a kaftan, and with 12 previous albums to pick from, Amos won't have struggled to make up the numbers.
In practice, she ignores too many classics to make Gold Dust a ‘best of’: for a start, there's no Cornflake Girl or Crucify. However, there is some method to her selections. These songs span 20 years of recordings, and draw from 10 of those 12 albums. Most feel at least partly autobiographical.
And since many had prominent string arrangements to begin with, Gold Dust isn't filled with radical reinventions. A 1994 epic called Yes, Anastasia – originally nine minutes long – gets sliced in half. Flavor, from 2009, loses its programmed beats. But most of these songs are just plusher, more refined versions of their former selves – and actually, that's no bad way to age.
Throughout, there are welcome reminders of Amos's songwriting gifts. Jackie's Strength, a cryptic song about marriage, becomes more poignant than ever. So all things considered, Gold Dust works as an introduction to Tori Amos, though an imperfect one. It should also persuade a few lapsed fans to get reacquainted.
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