Tori Amos – To Venus and Back (1999)

To Venus and Back is the best chance you have of glimpsing Tori Amos’ back catalogue in one package. The body of the album is found on the first disc, infamously named Venus: Orbiting; a collection of songs that envelope the electronic swagger of From the Choirgirl Hotel with the subtle melodic wanderings of future album Scarlet’s Walk. For me personally though, it’s the second disc – Venus: Live, Still Orbiting – that really hits the spot.

Once you get over the differences between onstage Tori and offstage Tori (of which there are many) you’ll unleash a beast that’s almost impossible to control. Put aside the rarities that whip out of Tori’s live performances and a world of attitude and punch lick off the then 35-year-old’s tongue. “Precious Things” goes on for nearly eight minutes. Entering with a powerfully hypnotic drum beat that despite lacking visual clearly enraptures her crowd, it quickly becomes a tense, fraught outlet of emotion that doesn’t leave the record from start to finish.

Those songs that haven’t been heard before are so practiced they may as well be studio versions. “Cooling” can still reduce me to tears thirteen years after I first heard it. If you’ve seen Tori live this is even more of a treat, bound up in memory and nostalgia – but don’t let a lack of experience put you off loving Live, Still Orbiting.

The same onslaught of feelings cannot be said of Orbiting, but that shouldn’t be held against the tracks – they simply present a different side to Tori’s music. Unfortunately that’s a side I’ve never appreciated as much as the fiery haired Goddess that cracked out “Waitress” and took a hammer to “Bells for Her”. “Juárez” and “Glory of the 80s” present a more interesting aspect of experimentalism to the board, while “Josephine” and “Concertina” are the best ballads. But none really touch on what she’s done before, and ultimately disc one is just a nice supplement to disc two.

Considering the popularity and notoriety of this album (or lack of), is it a worthwhile buy? Absolutely; there are choice performance recordings that really demonstrate Tori at her piano peddling best, and in most instances the price only reflects the purchase of one, and not two albums.

- Tiffany Daniels

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