Tori Amos

Unrepentant Geraldines

[Mercury Classics]

3 stars

Back in the days before there was a Lilith Fair, back when no one had yet heard of Jewell, back when Kate Bush was still releasing new albums on a fairly consistent basis, Tori Amos released her debut, “Little earthquakes,” and created a little earthquake of her own. It might seem quant today, when so many have taken Amos’ influence and stripped it of the barmy aspects that help to make her a great artist, but the first time you heard “Crucify,” “China” or Tear In Your Hand,” you felt you were in the presence of strange greatness, even if that greatness owed a clear debt to the work of the aforementioned Kat Bush.

It has been five years since Amos released an album of new songs that sounded at all like the work of the same woman who gifted us “Little Earthquakes.” The arrival of “Unrepentant Geraldines” settles that issue. It’s a weird and beautiful album that rather impossibly makes Amos’ seemingly idiosyncratic concerns seem like universal ones. It’s also a relatively stripped-back affair boasting the strongest melodies Amos has conjured in more than a decade.

There is a vaguely English sense of the pastoral at play here, and it haunts “Geraldines” from the get-go, as the heartbreaking inflections and nuances Amos graces the melody of “America” with bring us right back to “Earthquake” territory. “Troble’s Lament” tells the story of a feminine presence on the run with a horned goat-lord hot on her heels, and is at once disconcerting and gorgeous. “Weatherman” finds Amos alone at the piano, as if abandoned on the foggy moors, a distressed damsel intent on unearthing the wistful sadness at the heart of love. Amos has done this before, but rarely with such subtle mastery.

There are the requisite circus freaks here, of course, the most obvious one being “Giant’s Rolling Pin,” a bit of sunny music hall that takes on the NSA with determined glee. “16 Shades of Blue” blends jazz-informed chord voicings with strange electronic undertones, and is awfully close to sublime. These two songs stand apart from their fellow “Geraldines,” but they help the album feel of a complete piece.

Amos has never really wandered too far off course, but “Unrepentant Geraldines” still feels like a return to form.

– Jeff Miers