THE BEEKEEPER is possibly the most underrated album in the Tori Amos catalog. It's understandable how this could happen, however. The pastel-flowered cover art featuring a motherly looking Amos directly contrasts her brilliant, critically lauded solo-debut, Little Earthquakes
, which alternately portrays Amos as a girl trapped in a box and some phallus-inspired mushrooms. Neither does THE BEEKEEPER match the raw emotional power of Tori's Harpsichord-driven album, Boys for Pele
-- the inlay art of which displays the singer breastfeeding a small piglet.
What THE BEEKEEPER does offer is a 19-song set of mellow, radio-friendly tracks. The lyrics, while still rich in layered meaning, are not as inaccessible as those of earlier Amos works like Under the Pink
or To Venus & Back
. The melodies are complex and interesting but not dark and brooding like the angst-ridden From the Choirgirl Hotel
The B3 Hammond Organ and the Hammond Chord Organ are featured heavily on this album, but "Sweet the Sting" still manages to makes you want to sway your hips, and "Ireland" is a fun, if forgettable, ditty. "Martha's Foolish Ginger" is a lovely ballad, as is "Sleeps with Butterflies," THE BEEKEEPER's lead single. "Parasol" has that classic Amos feel, while "Cars and Guitars" is so radio-friendly that it's hard to believe it's a Tori Amos song at all.
The album's standout is easily the six-minute title track, "The Beekeeper." An epic song about the death of her mother, it's meandering synth would be at home on To Venus & Back
or From the Choirgirl Hotel
, and the dark yet poignant lyrics are clear enough to give you Tori's meaning of the song upon first listen while still leaving room for personal connection and interpretation.
Not all of the tracks are a complete success, however. On "Witness," Amos explores the issue of religion, but the song, even though backed by a gospel choir, lacks the electric power of earlier Amos works. "Ribbons Undone" is a sweet but unnecessary ode to her daughter and the kooky "Hoochie Woman" is not one of Tori's best.
The main problem here is not that the majority of the songs aren't good, it's the simple fact that when presented together as a package, the tracks lack cohesiveness and variety. Amos merely moves along from one mid-tempo song to another. This album is pure easy listening compared to her earlier work -- which is often labeled alternative or even punk -- and such a departure is difficult for hardcore fans to accept. You'll find no "Professional Widow" or "Waitress" here.
Still, THE BEEKEEPER is a great piece of art. Generally not what Tori fans were hoping for after the almost countrified Scarlet's Walk
, but a decent effort nonetheless. It may not be Little Earthquakes
Volume Two, but it's still more introspective and thought-provoking than most of the popular music dominating the charts today.