Tori Amos has never shied away from big statements, and her recent string of studio albums seem to be tackling bigger and bigger themes and concepts. And after years of flirting with sexually-charged subjects, her latest, "Abnormally Attracted to Sin" (Universal Republic), will come right out and smack you over the head with its sensual themes.
The thing is, though, Amos' music has always worked best when you have no clue what she's talking about — or, at least, when she's a bit subtler about her storylines. The jazzy "Mary Jane" envisions a mother/son sex talk, and while there are some lyrics that truly capture the conversation's awkwardness — his substitution of "formulate" for "fornicate"; her use of "permeate" for "penetrate" — it's the more explicit moments that leave a lasting impression. If the song title weren't obvious enough, she mentions that the girl in question "bakes... these odd brownies." And if you still haven't figured it out, Amos then spells out THC, literally: "Tetrahydrocannabinol Pure Isomer Dronabinol."
So much for subtlety.
On "Curtain Call", above a rippling, repetitive piano line, Amos breaks into a not-so-thinly-veiled metaphor. "By the time you're 25, they will say, 'You've gone and blown it,'" she sings. "By the time you're 35, I must confide, you will have blown them all." There's nothing subtle about it, but more importantly, its candor adds nothing to the song's overall essence.
But despite these moments of unnecessary explicitness, there are still times when Amos embraces mystery. The dark, synth-driven "Give" hints of vampirism in its lyrics, but it's the secrecy in Amos' sultry growl ("Do I have regrets? / Well, not yet.") that leaves you wanting more. The outstanding "Flavor" feels like a meditation; Amos draws herself into a trance with the deliberate pacing of her vocals and the haunting spaces in her simple arrangement. And to accompany the cryptic lyrics on "Ophelia," Amos' piano-playing is brought to the forefront; the song alternates between stretches of solo piano and segments accompanied by bass and drums.
Amos closes the album with the seven-minute "Lady In Blue", which starts out with almost a lounge vibe but grows into a powerful, driven piano line that's reminiscent of the Tori of the past. It's a bittersweet ending: "Sin" has some bewitching songs that are just as compelling as her earlier work, but its weaker moments and its sheer length — the album's 17 tracks clock in at 72 minutes — make one wish that Amos had done just a little more editing.
» DAR Constitution Hall, 1776 D St. NW; Sat., Aug 1, 8:00 p.m.; 202-628-1776.
Written by Express contributor Catherine Lewis