Listening to a new Tori Amos album is often a risky business for the people who enjoy her music. On one hand, diehard fans know that she has never quite matched the naked power of her debut album, "Little Earthquakes". On the other hand, this doesn't stop them from hoping that she does. "Abnormally Attracted to Sin", Tori's tenth album, once again falls short of living up to the unrealistic expectations set by her earlier output; but when you listen to the album for what it actually is, it certainly has many merits.
The good news is that for the first time in a long while, Tori's lyrics are not as needlessly indecipherable as they have been in the past. They still leave plenty of room for personal interpretation, which is one Tori's strengths; but for once, it's usually possible to at least get a glimpse of what she may have meant. The lyrics of the opening song, "Give", are as straightforward as Tori can get, while "Not dying today" carries a sense of urgency and defiance that she has not expressed in a long time. Many songs carry a feeling of regret and self-criticism for one's own behaviour in their relationships, such as the gorgeous "Lady in blue", "This guy" and "Maybe California". This doesn't mean everything is down to earth, though - anyone willing to provide a personal interpretation of songs like "Flavor" will certainly have their hands full. The other good news is that Tori's musical world, whether you find it appealing or not, certainly provides the listener with something different; her piano playing style and her distinctive vocals are still there, and they re-establish her artistic vision as something quite unique. Listening to a Tori Amos album definitely qualifies as an arresting musical experience, regardless of the predictable ups and downs.
Musically, the album is a cross between "From the Choirgirl Hotel" and "Scarlett's Walk", which is the not-so-good news part as far as I'm concerned. This mostly means that the production is adequate (and sometimes very effective, such as on the debut single "Welcome to England"), but rather uneventful. Some songs, such as "Curtain call" or "Give", could have been great if not for the dated programmed beats who punctuate them. The album also lacks standout tracks, not so much in terms of singles material (which was never Tori's forte) but more in terms of emotional impact. Songs like "Police me" and "Strong black vine" are cluttered and even silly, while songs like the title track or "500 miles" just seem to meander aimlessly until their completion. The album does have quite a few strong moments ("Lady in blue", "Flavor", "Ophelia", "Maybe California", "Not dying today", "Fire to your plain" and "That guy"); but most of the time, the songs seem to move into one another without much distinction, something that may have to do with the fact that Tori's songwriting has become much less melodic over the years. Taken individually, most of the seventeen songs included here are okay; but collected together, they induce an uneven feeling that has unfortunately become the trademark of Tori's latter albums. Getting rid of the album's clunkers would have resulted in a less extensive album, of course, but it would also have resulted in a tighter, more cohesive work.
It is interesting to point out that the deluxe edition of "Abnormally Attracted to Sin" includes a poster and a bonus DVD of "featurettes" of the songs. It's a nice addition to the album and many of these featurettes are actually very good. Diehard fans will be pleased with this addition, and should definitely go for the deluxe edition.