To Venus And Back

Complicated is a word for Tori Amos; she might even use it to describe herself. Her sixth recording, the double disc To Venus and Back, testifies to just how wide and deep her river runs. The two CDs — Venus Orbiting, an unplanned studio effort that Amos recorded suddenly this summer, and Venus Live, Still Orbiting, a set of thirteen live songs from her recent world tour — are not exactly opposites, but they are far from twins. Venus Orbiting is Amos at her most surreal, dreaming of her past, her pain and her desires in supersaturated musical and lyrical color. The CD's first words, trademark Amos phantasma — "Father, I killed my monkey/I let it out to taste the sweet of spring" — function as its mission statement: Autobiographical as ever, Amos aims to simultaneously uncover her inner history and cloak it in the wildest symbols she can find. Venus' music is equally ornate, flush with technology: mystery-ridden keyboardscapes and sample-and-loop witchery. Amos' stock in trade, her voice and piano, are often mere bit players on Venus. But just when it seems Amos has given herself over to the seductions of electronics, she pulls out a heart stopper: "Josephine," a stunning, regret-strewn Cowboy Junkies-sounding quickie that's just Amos, a drum, a bass and her ivories.

Perhaps for balance, or simply for the sake of completeness, Venus Live, Still Orbiting spotlights Amos' more acoustic material, most of it performed with her crackerjack touring band. It's Amos' first live recording, long overdue, and it works equally well as a greatest-hits collection. Crowd faves like "Cornflake Girl," "Waitress" and "Cooling" — which has never before surfaced on an album — make showstopping appearances. With To Venus and Back, Amos pays herself the ultimate compliment: She's good and complicated.

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