On her latest album, Abnormally Attracted To Sin, Tori Amos envisions a cycle of picturesque, often-woeful songs marked by seediness or some underlying element of shame. Through scenarios depicting characters either flawed or anguished, Amos lifts the veil just enough to reveal impressionistic glimpses of their supposed immorality and squalor.
Among the dark thoughts and deviance portrayed are risqué trysts, pubescent fixations, abusive relationships, existential suspicions and consensual submissions. In other words, they’re the kinds of subjects and themes that have populated Amos’ albums for the better part of the last two decades. It’s what she does with them musically on this new work that makes it especially intriguing and her strongest, most satisfying effort in years.
Drums and assorted percussion play an integral role throughout, from supplying the brisk, galloping pace of “500 Miles” to injecting the propulsive thrust of “Not Dying Today.” A grungy guitar erratically interrupts a trash-can-stomp groove on “Police Me” while, on “Give,” a boorish backbeat prefaces (and recurrently competes with) Amos on piano and vocals.
Indeed, it’s on her signature instrument that some of the more poignant songs focus and flourish. “Maybe California” and “Ophelia,” in particular, tell of women caught in conflicted conditions, their respective distress mirrored in the music’s eloquent yet plaintive arrangements. And in depicting an altogether different type of distress, a nebulous piano motif underscores an awkward conversation between a mother and her son in “Mary Jane” (which may or may not be about what the title suggests, but either way it’s awkward).
Other songs — specifically “Strong Black Vine” and the noirish album closer, “Lady in Blue” — benefit generously from vigorous synths and strings, instigating edgy rock rhythms with orchestral force.
All is not so enthralling, however.
"Fire To Your Plain” and “Fast Horse,” to cite two examples, slog along without making much of an impression, sounding more like languid segues in between the more interesting songs they precede and follow. Truth be told, Amos is at her best when at her most artistically eccentric and mercurial. She is not — nor has she ever been, thank God and/or Lucifer — a middle-of-the-road artist. So it’s disheartening when a couple of songs here sound like they could have been performed by anyone else and yielded the same results.
And so, at seventeen tracks, the album could have done away with its rather lackluster material to yield a more cohesive work. Nevertheless, its preponderance of ingenuity and overall creative, engaging music makes Abnormally Attracted to Sin Amos’ all-around best effort since From The Choirgirl Hotel.