Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 16, 2006)
Like Alanis Morissette, Tori Amos started her career with music that didn’t bear much resemblance to the work she’d do later. 1988’s & Kant Tori Read portrayed her as a slutty metal babe, and apparently most of the music matched that image. It bombed and Amos was able to take more control of her work with 1992’s Little Earthquakes.
And the rest is history! Amos’ style of quirky, personal tunes never set the charts on fire, but she’s managed a very solid career for herself, a fact bolstered by Fade to Red: Tori Amos Video Collection. You’ll find nothing from Kant here – Amos doesn’t exactly boast about the album these days – but the DVDs spread across the rest of her career.
From Earthquakes, we get “Crucify”, “Winter”, “Silent All These Years” and “China”. 1994’s Under the Pink provides “Past the Mission”, “Cornflake Girl” (US Version), “God” and “Pretty Good Year”. Off of 1996’s Boys for Pele, we locate “Hey Jupiter” (Dakota Version), “Caught a Lite Sneeze” and “Talula (The Tornado Mix)”, while 1998’s From the Choirgirl Hotel presents “Jackie’s Strength”, “Spark” and “Raspberry Swirl”. 1999’s To Venus and Back gives us “1000 Oceans” and “Bliss”, and we find “A Sorta Fairytale” from 2002’s Scarlet’s Walk. Finally, 2005’s The Beekeepers features “Sleeps with Butterflies” and “Sweet the Sting”.
I admit I’m not a big fan of Amos’ work, but I thought this DVD collection sounded interesting so I gave it a look. I’ll give a synopsis of each video along with my thoughts about them. I’ll conclude with a letter grade to rate each clip. (Note that I didn’t change my interpretation of the videos after I listened to Amos’ commentaries for them. For better or for worse, they offer my thoughts when I watched the videos for the first time.
Past the Mission: Tori leads a couple of Spanish girls through a small town. They build a parade of local women as they go off to confront a priest. I suppose “Mission” isn’t bad on its own, but it doesn’t start this set on a promising note because I fear I’ll see lots more videos like it. Women empower themselves to confront male authority – I hope I’m wrong, but I have the feeling that a lot of these videos will resemble this one. (No, I don’t object to female empowerment, but I worry the theme will get old quickly.) 6/10.
Crucify: Though the song follows the oppressed woman theme, the video seems more ambiguous. Frankly, I’m not sure what message it purports to deliver as we watch Tori lip-synch and dance a little. She looks oddly happy as she sings the bitter lyrics, though. 5/10.
Jackie’s Strength: Tori rides in the back of a cab as she apparently avoids her wedding. We see other women in their usual state of distress. Less heavy-handed than I make it sound, “Strength” is one of the set’s more interesting videos. It leaves itself open to interpretation and keeps us intrigued the whole time. 9/10.
A Sorta Fairytale: Adrien Brody guests as a head on the end of an arm, while Tori plays a head attached to a leg. Eventually they smooch and become whole people. This is arguably the creepiest video I’ve ever seen. 2/10.
Winter: This starts with some kids dressed as flowers who dance with Tori. Most of it just shows her at the piano, though. Boy, do I hate kids dressed up as flowers/animals/insects! That factor alone makes this a bad video. 3/10.
Spark: Bound, blindfolded and apparently left for dead in the woods, Tori tries to escape an oppressive man. As with “Jackie’s Strength”, “Spark” is more subtle than my synopsis conveys. Dark and effective, it’s a very strong video. 9/10.
Sleeps With Butterflies: Tori wears a variety of elaborate outfits and sings. This one lacks the narrative thrust of “Spark” but compensates somewhat with its lush, artful images. 7/10.
Cornflake Girl (US Version): Tori and some female pals tool around the US southwest in a ratty old truck before they pick up a stud cowboy. I suppose this one has something to say about the way women debase themselves for men, though that’s not terribly clear. The women don’t treat each other that well even before the cowboy comes along, so the message remains vague. It presents an interesting visual experience, though. 7/10.
Hey Jupiter (Dakota Version): Tori and a little girl escape a burning building. Subtext of childhood abuse aside, this one becomes a pretty good clip. It has enough to make us think without being obvious. 8/10.
Silent All These Years: Tori whirls around along with some shots of a little girl. All the images are jerky and done in slow-motion. That makes this a self-consciously arty video that comes across almost as a parody. 3/10.
Caught a Lite Sneeze: This one goes for a surreal tone as it shows Tori spinning around various settings. It’s interesting to watch but a little too off-kilter to really work. Still, it’s not bad. 5/10.
1000 Oceans: Tori sits, stands and lays in a street window display as we see the various events around her. These go for some obnoxious elements that make the video less appealing. It presents an interesting concept, though, and it’s something different. 6/10.
God: As she muses on the nature of the deity, Tori romps with rats and snakes and also shaves her legs. Hey, I’ll give her credit for her willingness to party with vermin. The song’s lyrics are too obvious, but the video creates some creative visuals. 7/10.
Bliss: The closest thing to a straight performance clip, this one features shots from a Tori concert. However, it artsies up itself with quirky backstage and crowd shots. It’s not much, but at least we get to see Tori throttle a Teletubby doll. 4/10.
China: Tori crawls along a rocky coast and then plays a piano made of stone. Though Tori looks better than usual here, the jerky slow-motion visuals get annoying, and the lack theme goes nowhere. 3/10.
Raspberry Swirl: Tori crawls through a vent and ends up at a dance party. A dude who looks like a creepy version of Peter Weller and a kid who reminds me of Lyle Lovett also make appearance. God knows what it all means, but it’s interesting to watch. 7/10.
Talula (The Tornado Mix): This one sticks Tori in a plastic room where doctors inspect her and she sings. We see other weird images and she eventually escapes to go play her piano. The setting seems odd but intriguing, and this one keeps us involved. 7/10.
Sweet the Sting: Mostly Tori lip-synchs at her piano with the accompaniment of backup singers. Though not as dull as that synopsis makes it sound, “Sting” does lack spark. 4/10.
Pretty Good Year: Tori provides a little action with dancing and a crash through a window, but mostly she lolls about and croons. The video has a lazy lyricism that allows it to overcome the blandness of its concept. 6/10.