Before you start thinking that the Tori Amos Ocean to Ocean album review is another “lockdown album” let’s explore it a bit deeper. Lockdowns and time have reached an emotional nadir, resulting in a sense of exhaustion. The 16th studio album from Tori Amos should be added to the worthy collection before going on.
When her tour schedule dried up last year, Amos went into her own “private hell” after years of pouring her heart and soul into dark, piano-driven balladry. She spent the winters of 2020 and 2021 in Cornwall with her husband, Mark and their adult daughter but the silence disturbed the 58-year-old, who recorded the album Ocean to Ocean as a result.
Ocean to Ocean Album Overview
Ocean to Ocean was released on October 29, 2021 on the Decca label with the vinyl LP following up in 2022 due to production pushbacks. The album is very personal to Tori as she states “ You need to write yourself out of this private little hell ,” which lead to her new album Ocean to Ocean and her feelings of despair during the third UK COVID lockdown.
As if by magic, Tori is able to transform a prickly yarn into an elegant and lovely piece of work. She’s not just a woman who’s walked through the fire; she’s a woman who’s formed from it. On Ocean to Ocean, you can hear that passion in every song.
Amos says. “This record sits with you where you are, especially if you are in a place of loss. I am fascinated when someone has gone through a tragedy, and how they work through their grief. That is where the gold is.”
We’ve all experienced a similar experience over the past 18 months, and Tori Amos has tapped into it with her new album. In the wake of the pandemic, people all around the world were driven to their knees by a common grief and loss. In Ocean to Ocean, we see Tori Amos suffering and coping through her loss, which has already been addressed by many other artists. We get to see her challenges up close and personal. It’s the honesty and frankness of it all that draws you in.
Upon its initial release, “Ocean to Ocean” was hailed as a critical success across the board. This is Amos’ best-reviewed album since Metacritic began keeping track of reviews in 2001, with an 81 out of 100 on the review aggregation website.
About Tori Amos
Myra Ellen Amos, better known as Tori Amos, is an American singer-songwriter and pianist. She was born on August 22, 1963. She has a mezzo-soprano voice and a background in classical music. Amos received a full scholarship to the Johns Hopkins University’s Peabody Institute at the age of five, making her the school’s youngest ever inductee.
Amos was the lead singer of Y Kant Tori Read, a short-lived synth-pop band in the 1980s, before breaking through as a solo artist with the releases of Little Earthquakes and Under the Pink. Sexuality, feminism, politics, and religion all feature prominently in her work. Tori Amos is touring to promote the Ocean to Ocean album along with the 30th anniversary of Little Earthquakes.
Ocean to Ocean Album Theme
With Ocean to Ocean, Tori Amos has created a collection of songs that masterfully expresses the depths of despair.
Grief and loss, as well as new beginnings, are the themes of the album. Although the songs are based on Amos’ personal experiences, they are also inspired by current political and environmental concerns, such as the death of her mother in 2019, the adjustment to COVID’s lockdown, and other such events. However, Ocean to Ocean’s eleven pieces’ thematic substance is driven by tidal waves of emotion that connect on a more universal level than any of her prior albums.
“It’s about sitting in the muck together,” Amos states in the albums press release. Our own experiences of the past 18 months match hers in many ways in Ocean to Ocean, which tells the story of a woman’s grief. With Ocean to Ocean, Amos abandons the narrative focus she’s applied to her songs for the last two decades, and it feels like she’s letting us into her world and letting us follow her route. Thus, it harkens back to the intensely personal work she did in the 1990s, which helped make her a global sensation.
Lyrical Themes Song and Music
This album’s standout feature is how many of the tracks feel like they’re in a transitional state, or perhaps a liminal state. This collection of songs doesn’t dwell on the depths of despair or the triumphs of overcoming adversity; rather, it explores the process of getting through it – the quest to better understand one’s own mistakes and flaws, the tragedies one has endured, and the alienation from one’s own self that grief can bring about. They’re all about embracing the parts of ourselves that we don’t like and working on them. These songs aren’t reticent. To put it simply, they’re the primary means by which we process, struggle, and recover.
“Addition of Light Divided” is a meditative tribute to resolving suffering, with heavy, dismal tones in its arrangement. When the song’s chorus comes around, the soundscape changes to something more upbeat and energizing, as if the song’s subject is waking up from an agonizing slumber. For many of us, it seems to reflect the emotional highs and lows we’ve all experienced over the past nineteen months and counting in this song’s shapeshifting. This mood is carried throughout the album.
Ocean to Ocean’s relevance and immediacy can lead to a few cases where a longer gestation period would have been beneficial. The verses of the album’s title track are reminiscent of Joni Mitchell’s desert-blues style. Although the chorus’ tone shift into harsh commentary on how politics and the pandemic have split us (“There are people who don’t give a goddamn / That we’re reaching mass extinction”) sounds like it might have been taken from another song.
“Spies,” the album’s second official song, is an upbeat track with allusions to the misunderstood forces tasked with defending us during times of instability. In terms of sound, “Spies” shows a more daring Amos, who adds nuanced hues to her musical palette with multi-layered vocalizing and a hint to the Abbey Road Beatles’ lyrical whimsy shortly before the five-minute mark..
“Metal Water Wood” has a moody-synth sensibility that sheds Amos’s past baggage. Fans who are familiar with Amos’ previous work will notice and appreciate the aural and lyrical similarities to Amos’ unsuccessful 1980s project, Y Kant Tori Read. In order to “be like water” and enable “these shattered hopes of mine / [to] wash… away with the tide,” the song actively chooses to “be like water.” Listeners will be reminded of Amos’ unique charm with this song, which is sensual and introspective at its best.
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When Amos sings about her late mother Mary Ellen in the rousing, electric-guitar-infused lead single “Speaking with Trees,” she evokes memories of Mary Ellen, who confided in her daughter that she had “been hiding your ashes / Under the tree house / Don’t let yourself be surprised / I cannot let you go” and that “you will be safe here” and “safe in the tree house.”
The languid, Zero 7-like groove of “Devil’s Bane,” which finds Amos revisiting the familiar theme of religious hypocrisy, an intrinsically American phenomenon that has mutated and proliferated in terrifying ways during this current epoch, is another notable moment that has me pressing the repeat button.
Packaging and Sound Quality
Ocean to Ocean is a technical triumph. Amos recorded virtually from her home studio in Cornwall, England with longtime collaborators Matt Chamberlain, Jon Evans, and John Philip Shenale.
I was fortunate to get both the CD and the Ocean to Ocean vinyl pressing. Overall it was Ocean to Ocean beautifully produced, extremely intimate with no fillers or skips for me. My vinyl pressing was dead flat and full of dynamics that really allows the emotions of Tori’s voice to shine. One note about the production is the entire album feels a bit over produced. You can tell there is a lot of electronic manipulation and processing, as well as what appears to be compression on some tracks.
The vinyl comes packaged in a gatefold cover and a decent pressing of the liquor. The CD is a single disk with a cardboard gatefold cover.
Want more great vinyl, see our Nirvana Nevermind Vinyl Shootout
Never one to shy away from documenting her own emotional turbulence, Amos allows Ocean to Ocean to wear its melancholy on its sleeve. It’s a record inspired and consumed by loss – loss of connection to others, loss of the self – and the process of trying to piece together both who we were before and who we will be after the storm. The result is a tight, cohesive collection of songs that expertly articulates and somehow finds meaning in the deepest recesses of despair.