Album Description

Tales of a Librarian

Monday 3 October 2011, by Cécile Desbrun

Tales of a Librarian is Tori Amos’s very first best-of compilation, that was released on November 2003 by Atlantic Records. Unlike many other compilations by other artists, it doesn’t merely feature songs that were released as singles or were big hits. Of course, “Crucify,” “Silent All These Years,” or “Cornflake Girl” are there —and even that big dance remix by Armand Van Helden that topped the charts worldwide — but Tales of a Librarian is a little bit more than that: Tori wanted it to be a sonic autobiography and she chose to include songs that were dear to her and chronicled time and what she went through until 2003. "I need to represent American history - from 1990 to 2003, because that’s what I write about, as well as the religious implications; and a Western woman’s life, and her love, and her losses, and in the end, hopefully, her autonomy,” she explained to Audio Media in October 2003. “That’s what this is about - the social and the personal, 1990 to 2003; it’s a time capsule." Hence the title, Tales of a Librarian.

The artwork (with photos by Thierry Le Gouès) show Tori dressed as a very retro and elegant librarian — a nod to her cameo appearance in Mona Lisa Smile that same year maybe? — and all the songs are classified according to the Dewey decimal classification system, thus giving indications on their theme and on why Tori chose to include them.

Most of the tracks were also remastered and remixed, with new details brought on the front of the mix. These changes can be very subtle, or much more noticeable: the new versions for “Crucify,” “Cornflake Girl” or “Winter,” for instance, are distinct from the original versions by clearly identifiable details, though these new mixes are not what we could call make-overs or reinventions of the songs.

“Mary” and “Sweet Dreams” were re-recorded however, and are completely new versions with a fresh and more contemporary sound. On the latest, Tori sings ironically “Who’s your Daddy?” during the intro because the 1990 version was about George Bush Sr. and the Gulf War, while the new version references W. Bush and the Iraq war. There are also two new tracks: “Angels” and “Snow Cherries from France”.

The gorgeous limited edition is a CD/DVD digipack combo. The bonus DVD features footage of Tori performing three songs during the soundcheck of Scarlet’s Walk’s tour last show, a photo gallery, an instrumental version of “Mr Zebra” and a newly reworked version of “Putting the Damage On”.

With half of the tracks from Little Earthquakes included in the collection, one might regret that more tracks from Tori’s following releases were not featured, or that the compilation is not more stylistically varied. However, the new mixes are interesting for the most part and the whole packaging and artwork were designed with great care. In a sense, Tales of a Librarian is the perfect gift to make discover Tori’s music to someone who’s not that much into rock or alternative music: the tracks chosen are very good and can all easily appeal to popular tastes, unlike the quirkier tracks from her catalog which were left out of the selection. One might guess there was probably a commercial choice made in that respect. The fans wanting a more representative and challenging collection of Tori’s back catalog will more likely turn to the 5-disc boxset A Piano: The Collection, that was released by Rhino Records in 2006 and that compiles 86 tracks.