Tales Of A Librarian is a collection of songs that, while neither a ‘greatest hits’ nor a ‘best of’, work together to spin the tale of a woman, her upbringing and what she has seen and learned in life. In essence, it is Tori’s musical autobiography.
The collection, for the most part, manages to pay respect to each of her Atlantic albums (she has since signed to Epic) and also introduces 2 new tracks and 2 re-recorded, rare B-sides. As the collection serves a conceptual purpose, the tracks are not arranged chronologically, however; the songs work so well together that it almost comes across as a new album and not one that spans the course 12 years.
From the stunning debut, Little Earthquakes, we get six songs, every one a gem. It is impossible to single out any one of these tracks as they are all incredibly moving and sublimely beautiful but “Silent All These Years” and the heart stopping “Me And A Gun” still manage to resonate loudly. Seldom have her lyrics packed so visceral a punch as this. If only all debut albums were this bold.
Far too talented to be bogged down with the feared ‘second album syndrome’, Tori followed up Little Earthquakes with the equally impressive Under The Pink. Three tracks from the album are here including the wicked singles “God” and “Cornflake Girl”. The non-single “Baker Baker” shows how magnificent this album is; here is an album track that is at the same level as the popular singles - a rare feat indeed.
Things went awry a bit for her third album, the problematic Boys For Pele. Without a co-producer to hold things together, the album almost sunk under its own quirky weight. Where once her lyrics were shockingly intimate, now they were merely puzzling. Because the tracks for this compilation were chosen for their relation to each other and the narrative at large, the first single “Caught In A Light Sneeze” is absent here. We do have the very short “Way Down”, the even shorter (at 1:05!!) “Mr. Zebra” and the repetitive single remix of “Professional Widow”. It is unfortunate since the original version was quite good but this remix gets tiresome. On a dance compilation maybe but here it is sorely out of place. The former two tracks are nice but so short they come across more as tone poems than actual songs.
With her fourth album, the exceptionally strong From The Choirgirl Hotel, Tori assembled an actual band for the entire recording (with a few exceptions) and successfully delved into experimental territory. A good part of the album boasted flourishes of techno flavours and drum loops with rock guitar riffs. The three tracks here are the more ‘Tori-esque’ of the bunch, the epic first single “Spark”, the haunting “Playboy Mommy” and “Jackie’s Strength”. These songs easily rank up with the best of Amos’ work.
1999’s To Venus And Back came off the heels of an intensive creative binge that brought forth an unplanned, 11-song album. Originally, she had planned on re-recording some of her many b-sides with her touring band when the muse decided to visit and left us with this rather exquisite album. Unfortunately, we only have one song represented here but it is one of her best singles, the appropriately titled “Bliss”. Not much needs to be said about it; the song is perfect Tori.
“Strange Little Girls”, the little heard covers album from 2001, is passed over, as this is Tori’s autobiography, her story.
And that brings us to the new songs. “Mary” and “Sweet Dreams” are older b-sides that have been re-recorded and “re-conditioned”. Both are classic Tori; beautifully melodic and catchy as anything she’s ever done. “Mary” is simply grand. “Angels” and “Snow Cherries From France” are brand new songs and stand up well next to the many excellent songs on the album.
Since her 1991 debut, Tori Amos has spellbound listeners far and wide with her vulnerable, emotive voice and virtuoso piano playing. If you have yet to hear her music, you can do no wrong in purchasing this collection. Whether you are a hardcore fan, casual listener or total newcomer, this is essential listening.
As an added bonus, as if the collection was lacking in some way, we are treated to a bonus DVD that, while short, contains very worthwhile material. As far as the video footage goes, we have three songs that were filmed at a sound check from this past summer’s tour. The awesome “Pretty Good Year”, rare b-side “Honey” and the stunning “Northern Lad” are presented in stereo as well as a spacious 5.1 mix. There are also two additional audio tracks, the lovely “Putting The Damage On” and “Mr. Zebra”, that make one hope that more 5.1 mixes are in the works. Rounding out the set is a nice photo gallery, lyrics to the 5 songs on the DVD and classy full motion menus.
CD - Precious Things; Angels; Silent All These Years; Cornflake Girl; Mary; God; Winter; Spark; Way Down; Professional Widow; Mr Zebra; Crucify; Me And A Gun; Bliss; Playboy Mommy; Baker Baker; Tear In Your Hand; Sweet Dreams; Jackie's Strength; Snow Cherries From France.
DVD - Pretty Good Year; Honey; Northern Lad; Putting The Damage On; Mr Zebra.