In the last 15 years, Tori Amos’ pop albums have gravitated toward two distinct categories: those where she utilizes elaborate characters and extended metaphors to illustrate her points, and those where she uses more straightforward, subjective inspirations for her lyrics. For fans, this has been somewhat frustrating, as Amos has always been a confessional commentator—especially at the intersection of the personal and political—and deriving emotional attachment from her intricate fictions has often been challenging.
The engaging Unrepentant Geraldines, however, splits the difference between these categories perfectly—mainly because this time, Amos’ muse led her into a variety of deeply personal, vulnerable places. An affinity for visual art is clear in an affecting treatise about the unique struggles women face while they age (the Cézanne-inspired “16 Shades Of Blue”) and a powerful song about not being spiritually oppressed by government or religion (the title track, inspired by an etching from Irish artist Daniel Maclise). A talented trio of bakers Amos knows in real life is the backdrop for a scathing attack on the NSA and unfair taxation in “Giant’s Rolling Pin,” while her daughter Tash inspired “Rose Dover”—which stresses that growing up doesn’t mean having to lose whimsy—and “Promise,” a simple proclamation of love and support.
The latter is also one of the record’s most interesting songs: A mild-mannered duet, the song seamlessly pairs Amos’ ethereal tones with Tash’s soulful, R&B-influenced delivery. Such subtle stylistic nods are everywhere on Unrepentant Geraldines—from the dusty Americana flickering through “Trouble’s Lament,” the flute-augmented pastoral classic-rock vibe of “Wedding Day,” or the electrified rock opera and gothic lullaby tint of “Rose Dover.” Yet the album’s strongest moments are also its simplest ones: Highlights such as “Selkie” and “Oysters” are unadorned piano-and-voice compositions reminiscent of the ones Amos focused on in the early ’90s. (Fitting, considering the latter song is about reclaiming a more innocent self despite rough times, what with lyrics such as “I’m working my way back to me again.”)
Only the bold title track—whose funky, reggae-influenced undercurrent gives way to speedy, Police-like rock surges during the chorus—sounds like a total departure for Amos. But this experiment sounds effortless and inspired, much like the rest of Unrepentant Geraldines, and it’s a welcome change: While her classical compositions and the rich backstory of albums such as 2007’s American Doll Posse are thought-provoking, this music also felt intensely labored over and scrutinized. Despite the serious subject matter, Unrepentant Geraldines has a lightness—and even creative joy—that makes it a thoroughly enjoyable listen.