Album description & Insight

American Doll Posse

Friday 26 August 2011, by Cécile Desbrun

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

“It’s a real challenge, allowing myself to not have any kind of subject limits [this time] because I was trying to protect my child. But that’s not the only reason I’ve written what I’ve written and done what I’ve done the last five years. Now that I’ve addressed things coming from the mother, the minister’s daughter and a sexual creature, it’s time to do something else energetically. I’m not quite sure how to put it in words yet and I think it’s better to let the music speak for itself.” By these words, Tori Amos announced the future release of her next album to AOL Music News Blog in July 2006. And indeed, American Doll Posse turned out to be something very different from the musically serene records that Scarlet’s Walk (2002) and The Beekeeper (2005) were.

For her 9th solo release, Tori chose to demultiply herself into five different personas and turned to the male gods of rock music for an album very much influenced by both the style and sound of the 1970s glam-rock. Drawing inspiration from icons such as David Bowie and his Ziggy Stardust, Freddie Mercury, Robert Plant, Jim Morrison, James Taylor and so on, the artist didn’t hesitate to “turn it up” with a big sound where the piano is an instrument among others, the bass, drums and guitars being very prominent on the rockier tracks (“Teenage Hustling,” “You Can Bring Your Dog,” “Code Red,” etc.).

Moreover, she really made the choice to deliver an “art performance” by channeling four other characters than herself, all of them based on the Greek pantheon and symbolizing different aspects of women... Each one has her own looks, personality, songs and story, which Tori developed in four online blogs throughout the world tour. Though she had already dressed up in thirteen different women in a pretty similar fashion for the artwork of her cover album Strange Little Girls in 2001, this time around, she took things a step further and brought her posse on tour, one of the four girls who isn’t Tori opening the show each night to perform a selection of her songs before giving up her place to Tori as people know her (but with a red wig and a flashy beaded jumpsuit) for the rest of the show. The dolls also ‘covered’ a few songs from Tori’s repertoire during their act, which were musically revisited for that occasion.

As to why Tori chose to create alter-egos on this record, she explained that when the songs started coming to her during the Beekeeper tour, she heard “different voices, and that the songs were divided among them. As if they had been written by more people. ” Indeed, the songs were all very stylistically varied, from straightforward rock tracks to more intimate ones, and she builded the whole concept of the album from there. As she realized that it was not going to be a “singer-songwriter record” and that the place of the band would be pivotal, she brought the musicians early on, “knowing that we had to develop them from the ground up,” as she told in April 2007. In an interview for Recording Musician, she revealed that the “focus” on the project lasted two whole years while the development of the characters took a year and a half. She kept the songs and concept to herself a long time though, “a year” she reckoned, before playing them to her entourage. The time to develop them "internally."

The concept was also justified by the content of the album itself: it was definitely a political record, addressing the very conflicted and disturbing situation in the United States as George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004 and that the Iraq war didn’t seem to meet an end. Hence the obvious references to the subversive “rock gods” of the 1960s-1970s and to the glam-rock era. But, as often with Tori, she chose not only to address her subject through the then Presidential figure and the Iraq war (though these are addressed in “Yo George,” “Dark Side of the Sun”and the B-side “My Posse Can Do”) but also and foremost through a personal and intimate point of view. From an American woman perspective. Which leads us to the very ironically entitled “American Doll Posse,” which brings to mind both a shallow girls band and the American Girls dolls, which are very famous girls toys in the US. Tori was shocked to see that many women didn’t react to Bush’s reelection when the conservative Republican party he represented was definitely a controlling patriarchal structure against women and the freedom for each individual to think for himself and present himself the way he wants.

“I believe that there are two factions and it is a war of ideals now,” she told Pressetext.austria in June 2007. “You can’t be for the emancipation of the masses and controlling the masses. You can’t wanna control them and how they think and also want them to be liberated. It doesn’t work this way. You’re on one side or the other. The way I see it: Those that are behind the Right Wing Christian movement are very much about encoding people with limitation. With categories. With stereotypes. With compartmentalisation, paradigms. They walk into them and they fill a slot, so therefore they’re not really investigating their own mind and their own opinions and who they are. But they are choosing to become what the authority would like them to become. And as you well know, how you control a person is by dividing and conquering them.” And what better way to fight this compartmentalisation individuals — and women in particular — are subjugated to than to create different positive characters that manage to escape those stereotypes while seemingly adopting similar codes?

“Think about the women,” Tori continued, “if you have the women put in these boxes – so there is the career woman – there is the tart – there is the mother – the artist – then you have them really amputated from the wholeness of the divine feminine. That’s one reason why I chose to bring the different character types from Greek mythology into now. Because I feel these stereotypes for women in the States are so diluted and watered down. The career woman is usually very non-sexual and a bitch. The tarte is usually fixated with her little jewels... no knickers on... and Catherine Deneuve does not come to mind. These girls don’t carry Aphrodite in any way. They are just completely non-threatening and vulgar. Then you have the mothers and you think: Hey, wait a minute! Why do we associate mothers without being sexual? I mean, they had to do something in order to get us here! (laughs) And it doesn’t have to be ‘vulgar’. It doesn’t have to be that way. In my mind there was such a dilusion of the Aphrodite archetype since Christianity took hold – mythology for the Magdalene and the Mother Mary. It’s really simplistic.”

Thus, Tori chose five powerful Greek goddesses, all very distinct but having their own singular wholeness: Demeter for her own Tori doll-character; Athena for the goth rebel Pip; Persephone for the shy and vulnerable Clyde; Diane for the intellectual Isabel and Aphrodite for the irresistible and clever tart Santa. Like in typical girls band, they all have their own fashion style and a distinctive trait of character, but their personality is much more complex than what appears on the surface. They’re pretty much multi-sided and none of them is weak or shallow. Whether in the songs, in their respective blogs or on tour, Tori adapted their myth to our modern-day society and explored their different facets.

The fact that she was inspired, musically and stylistically speaking, by the greatest male rock icons of the 60’s, 70’s but also 80’s appears under a new light in this respect. Indeed, while considered as very manly and powerful forces as musicians and performers, these artists weren’t afraid of showing their feminine side by their singing style and their looks: they wore rubber pants (Robert Plant, Jim Morrison) or flashy and eccentric clothes (David Bowie, Freddie Mercury) and, for Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane eras, make-up. “From the first serge of music through my body to the last, I knew that the testosterone was high,” she told the fanzine Little Blue World in their Spring 2007 issue. “Maybe, in order to remember the dismembered feminine, because that originated from a patriarchy moving in and amputating matriarchal authority, I had to remember the dismembered through the use of testosterone. Let’s go back to that very simple analogy, ‘Through the venom is the healing.’ You can only get the antidote if you possess the venom.”

She hoped that with this singular approach, she could reach out to both teenage girls and women and get them out of their numbness so they could at last take an active part in the world they lived in and choose a better President to represent them next time.

A lot of care was also given to the artwork and imagery of the album: Tori hired Swedish photographer Blaise Reutersward who took all the photographs of Amos’ posse in the artist’s own neighborhood in Cornwall, England, and the numerous pictures of the shoot could be found in the CD’s booklet, in the tourbook as well as in the music videos for the singles, which were actually composed of still photographs sequenced into a video.

The ‘Bible and blood’ photo, as it is commonly called among the fan community, was the first promotional shot revealed to the medias a few months before the release of the record, and it created quite an impression — to the point that the Los Angeles Times even wrote a whole article about it and the reactions it provoked. The striking photograph shows Tori in a very clean commercial-like, suburb area. Staring blankly at the camera in a frozen pose, she holds a Bible in one hand and the word shame written on her palm in the other, while a thick stream of blood is dripping from under her dress to the gravel pavment where she stands with a broken high-heel. The shot enthusiasmed fans and shocked conservative people but, moreover, 11 years after the infamous ‘pig and nipple’ shot of Boys for Pele, it proved that Tori could still create a striking and subversive imagery to illustrate and complement her work.

Though criticized by the music press for its ‘too lenghty’ double-album format reminiscent of the concept albums of the 1960’s and 1970’s such as The Beatles’ White Album, American Doll Posse was overall well received by critics and fans alike and the 95-dates world tour was successful. Most of the North American dates (28) were recorded and made available for digital download in the Legs & Boots series which is now available through the iTunes Store in most countries. Two shows in Oakland were filmed for a live DVD, but after Tori’s split with Epic in 2008, the recording of her 10th solo album for Universal Republic and her visualette project in 2009, it has yet to be mixed for a probable future release.

The dolls also appeared in The Road Chronicles, Abnormally Attracted to Sin’s bonus DVD in the limited edition of the album, which featured ‘visualettes’ — videos that are not quite like Tori’s regular music videos — for 16 of the songs.

Read a selection of Tori’s quotes about the album.