Is she a high-boil Kate Bush rip-off or a true renegade--a singer-pianist unafraid to cavort with fairies and howl with wolves? Sometimes Amos is simply both, someone capable of terrific, swooping highs and ungodly, muck-wallowing lows, a woman whose fever either mesmerizes or embarrasses. Before Fiona, there was Tori Amos: strong, passionate, womanly and weird.
On her fifth album, Amos sticks with her recipe of undulating piano and strangely phrased lyrics, only this time she pumps it up with a little electronic trickery here and there, resulting in a complete mix of good and bad.
The highs would be the heart-wrenching "Black-Dove (January)" and "Spark"--despite its unfortunate "she's addicted to nicotine patches" opening line. At the bottom of the barrel are the sappy and nostalgic "Jackie's Strength" and the cartoonish "Playboy Mommy."
The rest of "Choirgirl" sways to Middle Eastern rhythms and throbs to snail's-pace dance beats. In the end, the electronic cha-cha of Amos' "Raspberry Swirl" outdoes most of the songs on Madonna's new album because, rather than doling out nice-sounding self-obsession, Amos actually takes on the serious and the disturbing. The result is a complete and baffling portrait of the artist as a flawed human being.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).