Elevate Difference

Abnormally Attracted to Sin

It’s a sinful world out there, and Tori Amos wants to talk about a few sins not included in the Ten Commandments. Her tenth studio album, Abnormally Attracted to Sin, tackles themes of oppression, shame, intolerance, and abuse of power. It’s a record aimed at exploring ways in which governments, organizations, and people degrade each other.

Abnormally Attracted to Sin is an eclectic mix of musical styles that range from classic piano-driven ballads to electronic, jazz, and cabaret-inspired tunes. With nearly every album Amos has put out over the past decade, she seems to take a step further away from being the “piano girl.” The result with Abnormally Attracted to Sin, is that Amos has achieved a more integrated band sound and continues to explore the world of keys. In addition to her beloved Bosendorfer piano, this album features Amos on synths, Rhodes electric piano, and organ. She’s also joined by longtime collaborators Matt Chamberlain on drums and Jon Evans on bass.

The opening song for Abnormally Attracted to Sin, “Give,” sets the mood with its message of giving instead of taking. But this is no rainbow and butterflies ballad. It’s a dark, electronic-tinged track, on which Amos’ voice is at times husky and at times soaring. She sings, “There are some, some whose give, twists itself to take, they mis-take, who, what made up the line, some say it was pain, or was it shame?”

From there, this seventeen-track album spans topics of religious intolerance in “Strong Black Vine,” infidelity in “Fire to Your Plain,” and the cycle of abuse in “Ophelia.” Some of the standout tracks on Abnormally Attracted to Sin include the jazzy “Lady in Blue,” the twangy “Fast Horse,” and “Flavor,” a spacey trip where the narrator asks what it would it be like to look down on the destructive forces of man at work on Earth. The track where Amos shows her musical ability at its best is the title track. It’s a haunting song where Amos warns “pussy willow calls there by the church, ‘don’t go in if you are abnormally attracted to sin.’”

Amos continues to garner an increasing amount of criticism for producing albums like Abnormally Attracted to Sin that some deem “bloated” and “self-indulgent” for passing the seventy-minute mark. For some, it might prove a tedious listening experience, but it seems, as Amos sings in the opening track, that she’s more interested in giving abundance than taking away. What does seem to suffer, however, is the quality of writing. The record has more duds than usual for Amos. On “Welcome to England,” she writes the clunker “bang a tango but do not get tangled...if your heart explodes, is it deathly cold?” On “Police Me,” it’s hard not to laugh when Amos sings “to get off he cries ‘slutty goth’, but I’m a brightly colored person.” Amos may have hit an all-time low with “Not Dying Today,” a cacophonous, embarrassing mess.

What is most disappointing about Abnormally Attracted to Sin, though, is that it feels like Amos is pushing fewer boundaries. Her music feels safer. And, she continues to deal with the same themes she has built her career on: religion, trust in relationships, and women reclaiming themselves from the patriarchy. But one can’t fault Amos for passionately and tirelessly pursuing topics that will not be solved overnight. It’s a worthy battle and one that she does well.

Written by: Beverly Jenkins-Crockett, August 13th 2009