Originally intended as a rarities collection to tide fans over until she completed the follow-up to From the Choirgirl Hotel
, the double-disc To Venus and Back
mutated into something entirely different as Tori Amos
worked on it. She experienced a sudden creative burst, writing 11 new songs. In light of these new tunes, she decided to devote the first disc of the collection to the fresh material, with the second dedicated to live material recorded during 1998. As such, it provides an interesting contrast. With Choirgirl
, she decided to add muscle to her music by working with a full band, which naturally transformed her fragile, intimate songwriting into something weightier, or at least heavier. That much is evident from the live album, Still Orbiting, which puts many old favorites in a new light. The first disc, titled Venus Orbiting, proves that Amos
is better in a more intimate setting. Ironically, the album was recorded with her touring band, but the arrangements aren't as showy as the live reworkings, and her songwriting is a bit more straightforward. That's not to say that she has changed direction or ironed out all her quirks -- her lyrics remain almost impenetrably cryptic, her songs follow elastic, unpredictable structures -- but she has returned to her strengths: namely, concentrating on ethereal, dream-like song-poems. She's still expanding her music, but she's letting it breathe naturally, resulting in her best, most cohesive record since Under the Pink
. It's a bit of a shame that it's married to the live album, since that gives the impression that both discs are for hardcore fans. That's not the case at all -- Venus Orbiting will likely win back fans that have strayed from the fold in the past few years.