Some musicians are content to write pleasing songs. Others aspire to deeper meaning. And then there's Tori Amos, who for her ninth album has assembled disparate facets of the feminine essence to reclaim power from the ruling patriarchy.
Longtime devotees will nod in tacit understanding; Amos has been chief oracle to an estrogen-heavy following since releasing her haunting debut, "Little Earthquakes," 15 years ago. The uninitiated and the cynical may well roll their eyes, but they're advised to listen anyway. Grand conceit aside, "American Doll Posse" is a great art-pop album.
It's also a very long album, with 20 tracks clocking in at nearly 70 minutes. The songs are performed by five distinct characters, each of whom Amos created to represent a female archetype that stretches back to the pantheon of Greek goddesses but also encompasses modern womanhood. There's Isabel (Artemis), a politically outspoken photographer, emotionally wounded Clyde (Persephone), swaggering young Pip (Athena), a proud sensualist named Santa (Aphrodite), and of course Tori (Demeter and Dionysus), who embodies both male and female energy. Each girl has her own website, wig, and wardrobe, and they'll alternate as opening act on Amos's forthcoming tour.
The pursuit of wholeness is a recurring theme in Amos's career. Whether or not her fistful of psyches combine to make a complete woman is open to interpretation; more to the point -- and maybe this is the point -- Amos's concept has freed her to make a wonderfully varied album. It opens with Isabel singing "Yo George," a bittersweet, Bush-bashing piano ballad. Next, Tori stomps through the bluesy first single, "Big Wheel," although Santa's euphoric pop gem "Secret Spell" is the most radio-friendly track Amos has written in years. Clyde materializes in a discofied fever-dream, "Bouncing Off Clouds," which paves the way for Pip and her glammy anthem "Teenage Hustling." Santa's saucy come-on, "You Can Bring Your Dog," is pure sex and screaming guitars. And so it goes as the five characters, all Amos, take turns cobbling together the 43-year-old artist's most interesting and -- oddly enough -- cohesive album yet.
If freedom from oppression is the guiding principle, Amos demonstrates her winning strategy in the most fundamental musical terms: She's a heavy rocker, ruminative poet, winsome popster, and mystical enchantress. "American Doll Posse" is a lush sprawl of an album that works with or without the feminist playbook.