‘Native Invader’ Finds Tori Amos Confronting Climate Change and Politics

Established singer-songwriter Tori Amos is back with a new album. “Native Invader,” set for release on Sept. 8, is a continuation of a career musician who’s been steadily pumping out music since her 1988 debut with the now defunct project Y Kant Tori Read. Amos is so classic, in fact, that she may not even be aware of the discerning ears of the modern day listener. This appears to be an issue when listening to her new album, which, unfortunately for this storied musician, is rife with clichés.

Native Invader” starts off with a melancholic seven-minute message from the “Reindeer King.” “Your purity of soul, crystalline,” he says through Amos’ fairy-like withers. Lyrically straight out of a fantasy novel, “Reindeer King” is a haunting start for someone whose familiarity with Amos may just be her name and the wonderfully dark “Cornflake Girl” or the delicacy of “A Sorta Fairytale.” But as the album continues it’s hard to take it too serious — mainly because we’ve already seen it.

The album’s second track, “Wings,” is chock-full of baroque styling, but that’s just Amos. The background synths lead to steel drum punctuations and a chorus structure that feels forced. And then there’s the topical ones. “Broken Arrow” begins with a porn-esque wah wah guitar, and even the chorus, while mimicking every classic pop-rock song, is solid. On the track Amos talks about the plight of the modern-day Native American at the hands of the U.S. government, i.e. Standing Rock, using lines like “the broken arrow needs healing.” “Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise,” a folk trope lyric if there ever was, is an ode to our current climate struggles on “Up the Creek.” While both these issues are more than deserving of artistic defense, Amos sinks them into gypsy ramblings. “Desert sister/I’ll be breaking in/Desert sister/To break you out” she patters on, eventually coming upon mentions of Gaia, the idolized personhood of mother earth for the yoga-obsessed. It’s deeply over-produced, even kicking on a drum-n-bass beat leading to an utterly confusing section that’s so instrumentally convoluted it sounds out of tune.

As the album progresses, you’ll come across tracks like “Chocolate Song” and “Climb” that are more stripped down, featuring a focus on the standard band staples like guitar, piano and a modest drum beat. Even the former features a digital breakdown that, while exclusively electronic, is simple enough to fit within the song’s overall mood. This is where Amos’ strong suit lies, musically speaking. Simplicity is always what has drives the point home for her when it comes to her outstanding lyrical ability to address heavy issues. “Breakaway” is just that, a talented musician and her piano speaking from the heart. Even “Benjamin,” which is orchestrated by a full band, feels like the Amos fans know and love. 

While the messages are relevant throughout the album, much of the music on “Native Invader,” outside of the aforementioned “Wings,” “Broken Arrow” and “Up the Creek,” still feels a bit out of touch. Though, you can’t blame an artist for their inherent inflexibility when it comes to adjusting their sound to the current era in music. Instead, it’s clear that this album was made for true-t0-earth Amos fans who have followed her throughout her career, and loved every second of it.

While throughout the years Amos has seen immense critical success through Grammy Awards and the like, “Native Invader” just doesn’t translate to a modern audience. Again, that wasn’t Amos’ goal here, but when you’re talking so topically about politics and climate change, it helps spread the word if the message is wrapped in a musical bow that reflects the times.

Native Invader” is available Sept. 8 on Apple Music.