Track Record

REVIEW: Tori Amos’ Night of Hunters Is A Work In Process

So, can we talk about Tori Amos’ new album?

Having had a chance to listen to Night of Hunters in its entirety, I’m…well, honestly, I’m still processing. Let’s process together, shall we?

Back in May when the album was announced, I didn’t really bat an eye at the premise: a “21st century song cycle” inspired by classical themes. Sure. Whatever. It sounded like a concept album to me, familiar territory for Tori Amos fans. Maybe the fact that it was being released on a classical music label, Deutsche Grammophon, gave me pause, but as esoteric as she can get, Amos is still a pop musician. This was gonna be a pop album, right?

Nope. This is not a pop album.

I don’t just mean that it’s not going to get a lot of airplay or win any VMAs. And I don’t just mean that it’s a difficult work or that it may not appeal to a broader audience. No, this is something significantly different from a pop album. It’s a song cycle.

And, what exactly is a song cycle anyway?


“A song cycle is a group of songs designed to be performed in a sequence as a single entity. As a rule, all of the songs are by the same composer and often use words from the same poet or lyricist. Unification can be achieved by a narrative or a persona common to the songs…The unity of the cycle is often underlined by musical means…”

Ok. So it’s kinda like a concept album.

Amos has used narrative in her work before—most notably on 2002’s Scarlet’s Walk. On Night of Hunters, she’s woven a rather compact tale of a couple’s parting and the woman’s first night without her man.

But it’s not the narrative element that sets the new album apart from Amos’ back catalog. It’s a completely different style of music. And not in the way that Boys for Pele’s minimal production contrasted with the rhythm and electronic flourishes of From the Choirgirl Hotel, or how The Beekeeper’s gentle earthiness contrasted with American Doll Posse’s gritty, aggressive rock.

When Amos says “classical themes,” she means it: This is chamber music. No guitars or percussion—just piano, strings and lots of woodwinds. I supposed it has most in common with deep cuts like “Gold Dust” and “Yes, Anastasia.” The sort of sweeping, orchestral songs with which Amos occasionally closes her albums.

It’s not exactly an unexpected move. As NPR Music’s Ann Powers writes, this is the album Amos was perhaps born to write. But it’s bound to inspire some mixed reactions.

Amos purists—those who hanker for the days when she toured solo at the piano—will probably love Hunters. It’s got the subtlety, the quiet beauty they come to Amos for.

Those who prefer her gutsier work, the bombast of the live version of “Dragon,” will have trouble with the album. To them, I’d suggest approaching Hunters as though it were a film: Listen to it once, maybe twice, deal with it—and then move on. It is lovely music, beautiful and moving, but in the way Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark is beautiful and moving. You watch it. You love it. But it’s not a movie you just pop in on Friday night with a bowl of popcorn. Similarly, Night of Hunters isn’t an album you’re going to put on your iPod and listen to on the way to work in the morning.

But who knows, maybe you will. By now I’ve listened to Hunters start to finish a few times, and it’s already starting to grow on me a bit.

Like I said, still processing…