Following the classically inspired Night Of Hunters, Gold Dust, Tori Amos’ second album on Deutsche Grammophon, released on October 1, 2012, breathed new life into 20-year-old songs on a beautifully crafted work about storytelling and memory. It is a sumptuous, atmospheric recording on which Amos sings and plays with The Metropole Orchestra conducted by Jules Buckley.
Marking the 20th anniversary of her seismic solo debut, 1992’s Little Earthquakes, Gold Dust revisited songs from that album, along with more recent tracks, in new arrangements for piano and orchestra by Amos’ long-term collaborator John Shenale.
“Gold Dust is really about looking over the last 20 years of a person’s life and all the stories they’ve been told,” Tori told this writer at the time. During the process of recording, she noticed how her perception of the songs had changed over the years. “With stories such as ‘Winter’ that were written inspired by my father and my grandfather, what began to happen when I was recording with the orchestra was that I started to see new pictures,” she explained, “such as my daughter running in the snow with her dad, who is my husband; I didn’t just regress to when I was a child.”
She explained further in the album’s sleeve notes: “It was as if the orchestra were revealing to me subtle meanings of my own songs I had not yet discovered.”
There were practical considerations, as well as sentimental ones, when it came to picking the songs for the 14-track album. “There needed to be a portion designed for a string section or for an orchestra because certain songs, in their architecture, are built to hold and contain a lot of instruments. Other songs are not,” she said. “That doesn’t mean they can’t be rearranged – songs [can] try on different dresses, if you will, and be presented differently.”
Alongside older tracks from her second and third albums, Under The Pink and Boys For Pele, as well as those from Little Earthquakes, Gold Dust also featured more recent songs, such as album opener “Flavor,” and “Star Of Wonder,” a gorgeous reworking of the popular carol, which first appeared on Midwinter Graces.
“The thing about that is… that had synthesizers on it on the original recording,” explained Tori. “And we couldn’t resist the opportunity to conjure this Middle Eastern-sounding string arrangement… I felt it was important that different phases of my composing were represented – not just things from 20 years ago.”
It’s an interesting point. Little Earthquakes was a fearless debut, tackling rape, religion, and female sexuality. It is a bold, brilliant album, but very much a coming-of-age work, so it is intriguing to hear the songs of Tori’s youth, such as “Precious Things” (“So you can make me cum/That doesn’t make you Jesus”) juxtaposed with Christmas carols and soaring strings.
But Amos would argue that she hasn’t mellowed. And a quick listen to the singles released so far from her new album, Native Invader – no prizes for guessing who might have inspired the title in her native US – confirms this. “It’s anger about different things,” she said. “If you’re still angry about the same things you were 20 years ago, then you haven’t made any changes in your life… I think American Doll Posse [containing the song ‘Yo George’, addressed to George W Bush] contained a lot of anger, but anger against what certain people were doing to my country, America.”
Anger, though, is not what one takes from Gold Dust, but a lovely sense of the wisdom and perspective that comes with the passing of the years. The title track contains the key lyrics, “‘How did it go so fast?’ you’ll say as we are looking back. And then we’ll understand we held gold dust in our hands.”
“It’s about the birth of my daughter,” Amos said. “I wrote it while I was pregnant with her and I was in different parts of the States. I had her in Washington, DC, which is not far from where I grew up and went to school, so right before she was born I was seeing all these places I’d gone to when I was a teenager – and yet I was bringing a new life in to the world… So I felt that calling it Gold Dust [was about] the memories that the songs carry and the new memories that they create.”
And is it true that she thinks of her songs as daughters too? “Well, daughters, but with a lot more intelligence than I have,” she laughed. “All of them. If you can imagine a daughter being born and she goes off to college in high heels and says, ‘Thanks for having me, mum. Bye!’”