BY ALAN SCULLEY
For an album about character types, it’s ironic that Tori Amos stepped out of character in making her latest CD, American Doll Posse.
She adopts four distinct female characters based on Greek mythology as a way to study and break down stereotypes of the contemporary woman. As an artist who has explored the question of what it means to be a woman, there’s nothing out of character thematically.
Musically, this posse is of a different stripe. That much is apparent by the time Amos and her band unleash the crashing chords of “Teenage Hustling,” the album’s fourth track. Where her previous Amos albums (2005’s The Beekeeper and 2002’s Scarlet’s Walk) leaned toward baroque, delicate piano-centered pop, Posse quickly establishes itself as a rock album that’s distinctly different from much of Amos’ past work.
Ironically, the female-centric concept of Posse prompted Amos to go in a harder-hitting direction.
“As a scribe, you have to listen to what the songs want to be,” Amos said in a phone interview earlier this month. “It wasn’t a typically singer-songwriter record, which the last one was really more of. This one was not that way at all. So because the narrative was very much about female character types, sonically the songs were saying, ‘We have to go to the rock gods.’ So I needed some testosterone.”
The idea of exploring female archetypes was inspired by the regression Amos recently noticed in the roles of women, particularly in American society. The situation, she said, is largely a result of the influence of the Christian conservative movement and the Bush administration.
“The Christian right wing had done their job very well,” Amos said. “They were able to distract the women from really looking at what the Bush administration (has done), from how the Bush administration views the place of women at the table of power … I thought, well, women are stepping into these stereotypes, and we need to rattle our own cage. So the way to do that is we have to expand these definitions of who we are. Then in that way, maybe as we become more powerful and complete with ourselves, maybe we can look and see who the real aggressor to women being equal is.”
In creating Posse, Amos dug into Greek mythology, a time when the feminine was considered divine. She created four characters — Isabel (based on Artemis and the most political of the characters), Clyde (drawn from Persephone, an idealistic, emotionally naked character), Pip (culled from Athena, a warrior) and Santa (based on Aphrodite, who is full of passion and sensuality) — to populate the CD and tell stories Amos hopes will help women tap into their many personality traits and become more like their authentic selves.
Amos said that sometimes the city or local events dictate which character she assumes to start the show.
“God knows, something might have happened at 5 o’clock that afternoon on the news in that town,” she said. “And you say, ‘We have to do Isabel tonight. It’s a political issue. We have to do Isabel.’ And those are the decisions that get made.”
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