There comes a point when every great musician succumbs to maturity and makes the leap from MTV2 to VH1. Still armed with an ageless smirk and a female version of a voice falling halfway between Conor Oberst and Chet Baker, Tori Amos has been making that journey for the last half decade. But with The Beekeeper, she deserves a star on the hypothetical VH1 Walk of Fame.
Once known for being an “alternative” musician, Amos has, from a musical standpoint, officially crossed the line into adult contemporary territory, a place she solidly delved into with 2002’s Scarlet’s Walk. As a thought-out concept album, Amos has approached The Beekeeper from the perspective of a Christian woman, and she uses religion in a relatively positive way. The album’s title and concept refer to the combination of biblical mythology and femininity, the beehive comprehensive of six gardens, reflecting the six days it took for God to create Earth as well as the hexagonal shape of a beehive. The bees relate to femininity in the sense that they procreate in their space, just as a woman has the ability to reproduce and become the creator.
Her effort is continuously admirable, but what is frustrating about The Beekeeper is the music itself: it’s almost formulaic, including even the token song that displays a powerful sense of womanhood — just like “Raspberry Swirl” on 1998’s From the Choirgirl Hotel or “The First Taste” off Fiona Apple’s near-masterpiece Tidal. The music involves a slightly tribal beat, a hint of gospel (but not enough for religion and culture to overpower femininity) and is perfectly appropriate for the slumber-party scene in the latest made-for-TV movie on the Oxygen network. “Witness” and “Hoochie Woman” qualify as ideal pieces to this woman’s soundtrack, and Amos took a serious misstep with her attempt at modified old-school R&B on “Ireland.”
Despite the overt attempt at finding her funky side, what nearly saves this album is songs like “Original Sinsuality,” a classic Amos ballad that harks back to Under the Pink, or “Mother Revolution,” a slow waltz that flows with little effort — a rare find on The Beekeeper. I wouldn’t say that all is lost for Amos. However, should this phase of embraced motherhood continue, I’ll find myself opting instead for the singers who’ve experienced prolonged singledom, depression and hysterectomies.