Yet somehow the little girls—and the big girls who make up Amos's core audience—understand. After all, in her songs that are alternately assertive and self-excoriating, Amos is a bitch, she's a lover, she's a child, she's a mother—but never in such pedestrian terms. Amos is not so much a one-woman Lilith Fair as she is the modern-day embodiment of Lilith herself—an alternative Earth mother who is standing at the ready when Plan A goes horribly awry.
On choirgirl hotel, Amos sometimes preaches to the choir itself, addressing women's frustration and rage in songs like "Black-Dove (January)" (which, however obliquely, addresses abuse) and "Jackie's Strength" (which turns JFK's assassination into a song about feminine endurance), yet casually lets drop lines like "You're only popular with anorexia." While such sentiments will surely bring knowing nods from Amos's established host of fans, there's more than enough here to hook newcomers, and maybe even skeptics. This time out, it seems that Amos can meander through the set-ups however long she wants, but when she gets to the punch lines, the effect is devastating. In "Northern Lad," a song about a relationship gone sour, it's this: "Girls you've got to know/ When it's time to turn the page/ When you're only wet/ Because of the rain." In "Raspberry Swirl," she's even more succinct: "If you want inside her/ Well, boy you better make her raspberry swirl." Now there's a message that needs no decoding.
One of the primary reasons choirgirl hotel connects is the music. On previous albums, Amos has been content to focus on her piano and her voice—formidable forces, to be sure, but, when coupled with her dark-side-of-the-moon lyrical bent, the results were often numbing or obtuse. On the new album, the songs are driven by a full band, and the spirit of collaboration and experimentation with up-to-date sounds and loop-happy techniques positively invigorates the music.
this is no calculated electronica move, no craven attempt to keep Amos
current at any cost: Ebbing trip-hop rhythms are used judiciously on songs
like "Cruel" and "Liquid Diamonds," while shifting time signatures and
textures add intrigue to the techno-inspired "Hotel" and the simmering,
sinuous "Iieee," which explodes into a caustic full-metal attack. Over
it all, Amos's voice swoops and soars, and when she does step up to do
a ballad—say "Jackie's Strength" or "Northern Lad"—the contrast pushes
the emotions of survival and betrayal to new levels. And for once, it all
seems to make sense. Despite the occasional lyrical daftness that has plagued
past efforts, the sign outside the choirgirl hotel proudly blinks: No Vacancy.
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