Tori Amos hasn’t shied away from anything in her decades-spanning career, and her fifteenth album — Native Invader, out today, is no different. Emotional, lyrical, and fiery, the album’s lush, melodic soundscapes reels from major issue to major issue, turning the personal into the global and the political. But don’t take the album’s produced, often dreamy sound as an indication that this Amos is any less powerful than the Tori of previous eras. Where she once broke your heart into pieces with the pounding of her harpsichord, Amos is now calling on her listeners to take a stand with every urgent bass line and every ethereal echo. A stand against hate, against climate change, against the never-ending machinations of the political machine.
It’s a lot to absorb in in one listen, and this album deserves many. As a follower of Amos’ work since my teenage years, it’s one that I’ve been waiting for. While her most recent albums — Abnormally Attracted To Sin, Night Of Hunters, Gold Dust, Unrepentant Geraldines — have all featured standouts that have a home on any Spotify playlist I curate (I’m only allowed to bring Midwinter Graces out around the holidays), Native Invader feels like it must be listened through. And then listened through again until you really hear it.
Much of the album’s power comes from how intimate it feels. Amos’ original intent was to connect with the stories and song lines of her mother’s family, but then the universe decided it had other plans. First, the 2016 election shook America to its core; then, only months later, Amos’ mother, Maryellen Amos, suffered a debilitating stroke that robbed her of the ability to speak. The pain that sweeps through the album is Amos’, but as she unleashes the full spectrum of her emotions across the sonic divide — grief, hope, anger, a frustration with fake news (that’s an emotion now), healing — it feels like yours, too.
“It wasn’t going to be a record of pain, blood and bone when I began,” Amos said in a release leading up to the album’s drop date. “It wasn’t going to be a record of division. But the Muses 9 insisted that I listened and watched the conflicts that were traumatizing the nation and write about those raw emotions. Hopefully people will find strength and resilience within the songs to give them the energy to survive the storms that we are currently in.”
I spoke to Amos about Native Invader, the militia of the mind, and how to stay strong when it feels like the entire world is collapsing.
You’ve said that Native Invader isn’t an album that you actually set out to make. Can you tell me more about that?
Well, a year ago — over a year ago now — I had been told to take a trip; a road trip to the Smoky Mountains, not knowing what I would find there. And I was told by people that I respect to just be open, and to listen, and to just expose myself to the streams, and the nature, and the waterfalls, and the rivers, and the rocks, and the trees, and the ridges. And just be as open as I possibly could. And I might not know what it all meant at the time. And they were exactly right. It wasn’t until the autumn, it wasn’t until mid-November the songs then started to really come.
This album has many themes: Your mother’s stroke, nature, politics. How did you bring it all together?
It’s the Muses’ work. Really — the Muses 9. I co-create with them, but they are driving this message, more than on some albums, because that’s just how it worked this time. Sometimes I was just taking dictation, literally. It was just being shown to me and I was trying to not miss anything they were saying. And yes, of course there’s a level of collaboration with it. But, there were moments when I was just honestly being a scribe.