Tag Archives: 2005

All I Need: Amerie’s “Touch” Turns 10

Amerie in 2005.

Amerie in 2005

Theories of new leadership for the R&B female vanguard at the outset of the 2000’s rumble on today. After Aaliyah’s untimely death, a vacuum opened and many rushed to fill itBeyoncé ascended quickly.

Though there have always been the zeitgeist figures of any genre, usually it’s those under the surface of said genre that carry its current along. Singers like Mrs. Carter look to those currents for inspirationoften they translate their breakthroughs to a wider audience. The politics of this exchange will invoke ire, but that’s a conversation for another time.

Amerie Rogers was, and is, a strong current in modern R&B’s ocean.

Amerie snuggled in between hip-hop and neo-soul with her first album All I Have (2002). But, a decade ago many questioned if the voice behind that record was just an extension of its producer Rich Harrison. It was a misconception Amerie refuted with her sophomore LP.

The History

The biracial vocalistAmerie is of Korean and African-American descentwas the requisite “army brat” due to her father’s vocation with the United States government. By the time Amerie was exiting her teens, she had traveled extensively and would secure her higher education (via Georgetown University). However, music, literature, art and fashion remained her passions; she placed herself in a position to meet music heads of industry to pursue her dream.

Neophyte producer Rich Harrison, fresh off assignments for Mary BligeMary (1999) and No More Drama (2001)crossed paths with Amerie. The pairing had instant creative chemistry and Amerie’s debut All I Have (Columbia, 2002) was born. Held aloft by its single “Why Don’t We Fall In Love?” (U.S. R&B #9, U.S. Pop #23) in the summer of 2002, Amerie made a splash with urban radio and its record buyers.

All I Have was a good starting point for Amerie and work slowly began on its follow-up. In the interim between Amerie’s first and second albums, Harrison ventured out for more production job opportunities. Harrison’s take on “go-go music,” its roots owed to the clubby Washington, D.C. flavored go-go, had found another voice to wield it, Amerie’s Columbia label mate Beyoncé.

Crazy in Love,” lifted from Beyoncé’s platinum busting Dangerously in Love (2003), made Harrison an overnight R&B knobtwirler hot property of the period. The reappropriated go-go vibe almost became cemented to Beyoncé’s sonic identity, despite Amerie fronting it just a year earlier.

Unmoved, Amerie reenlisted Harrison and set forth to achieve a sophomore strike.

The Record

Amerie's

Amerie’s “Touch” transformation

Amerie quietly went about writing 10 of the 11 cuts that comprised her second LP, Touch―international versions boasted “Man Up” (with Nas) and an ambitious Diana Ross cover (“I’m Coming Out”).

This dramatic turn-around was a large leap of progression as Amerie had no writing input on Touch’s preceding record.

Amerie and Harrison steered Touch with additional production / writing from a wealth of mainstream and underground talent: Bink!, Lil’ Jon, The Buchanans, Red Sypda, Dre & Vidal, Cory Rooney, Sean Garrett and Bryce Wilson (formerly of Mantronix and Groove Theory). Touch split its sound across uptempos and downtempos.

The former batch were led by the gorgeous, but percussive “1 Thing”. Utilizing a brainy interpolation of “Oh, Calcutta!” by The Meters, Amerie took back the sound she put on the scene. Yet, “1 Thing’s” melodic femininity held a confidence and control (vocally) that heretofore she had not shown.

Subsequent shakers were meaty (the title song, “Not the Only One,” “Talkin’ ‘Bout”), but they lacked that sweet underpinning which made “1 Thing” addictive. Thankfully, later elevated excursions on her third and fourth records juggled production and performance energy evenly.

The latter category of ballads is where Touch highlighted Amerie’s refined taste in samples: “All I Need” (Jean Carne’s “You Are All I Need”), “Rolling Down My Face”  (Roy Ayers’ “Searching”) and “Can We Go” (Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Evil). Amerie reinterpreted them all with a refreshing spin. In particular, “Can We Go” (the sole Harrison penned number) was a cascading duet with crooner Carl Thomas that captured Amerie’s sensitive side superbly. 

With the stated 11 tracks, excusing an unnecessary “1 Thing” remix with Eve, Touch platformed Amerie’s own personality.

The Impact

The Touch LP cover

The Touch LP cover

“1 Thing” ushered in the “new Amerie” to critics and record buyers. It was a hit: U.S. R&B #1, U.S. Pop #8, U.K. #4.

“1 Thing” became Amerie’s signature tune and netted a Grammy nomination for “Best Female R&B Vocal Performance” in 2006. Additionally, it was one of the inaugural digital singles to be awarded with a platinum certification by the RIAA.

It didn’t hurt that “1 Thing” was the theme to the Will Smith rom-com ‘Hitch’ giving it a larger pop audience. Its parent recording Touch landed on 4/26/15 to favor on the charts: U.S. Billboard 200 #2, U.S. Top R&B / Hip-Hop #1, U.K. #28.

Critically, Amerie’s maneuver to take hold of her artistic affairs paid off.

Vibe Magazine’s Angie Romero opined:

The brash soul samples, horns and hard club beats on the lead single, “1 Thing,” are an excellent preview of Touch’s sonic flair.

Rolling Stone writer Bill Werde elaborated further:

Currently booming from jeeps in a neighborhood near you, Amerie’s “1 Thing” is an early front-runner for “song-of-the-summer” status. Amerie is all grown up on her second effort. And in this case, growth is good.

The corresponding music video for “1 Thing” also announced a visually alert Amerie. Her love of high fashion and pop culture (notice the nod to the Elvis Presley ‘68 Comeback Special’  concert) were very much present. She wasn’t just a pretty face, her ideas for conception, creation and execution extended from the lyric notepad, to her closet and the director’s chair.

“1 Thing”

Directed By: Chris Robinson and Amerie

Touch reached gold certification in the United States with 406,000 copies moved as of it last certification in June 2009. It spun off two additional singles during its original lifespan in 2005: “Touch” (U.S. R&B #95, U.K. #19) and “Talkin’ ‘Bout” (U.S. R&B Bubbling Under #2). The LP  garnered Amerie a “Best Contemporary R&B Album” Grammy bid in 2006 along with the aforementioned “1 Thing” nomination.

Amerie should have had an easy ride with Columbia Records because of Touch’s victory. Sadly, trouble had already appeared during the second record’s formative period .

The label wasn’t ready to cooperate with Amerie’s new outlook for her career; the singer later revealed that Columbia had fought her on the decision to move forward with “1 Thing” as the album’s first single. The other selections pulled from Touch received little-to-no push. The exquisite LPs that followed Touch had stalled sales because of major label indifference: Because I Love It (Columbia, 2007) and In Love & War (Island / Def Jam, 2009).

Since abdicating from A&R politics after her fourth record, the singer / songwriter / producer / arranger has been hard at work on her fifth LP, Cymatika. The long player’s title draws from the term cymatics, the scientific study of visible sound and vibrations. Various pieces have been shared by Amerie from the forthcoming effort since 2011; last year’s “What I Want” was the most exciting taster thus far.

Amerie scaled cerebral heights with her third and fourth albums, but it all began with Touch. Amerie’s chrysalis instituted there allowed her to be reborn as one of those mentioned driving currents in modern R&B. Her influence is very present in the women of that genre. Listen closely. Ranking: Semi-classic

[Editor’s Note: Touch is readily in print, digitally and physically. For current information on Amerie, visit her official website.-QH]

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Mother Revolution: Tori Amos’ “The Beekeeper” Turns 10

Outtake from The Beekeeper photo sessions

Outtake from The Beekeeper photo sessions

It was very conscious with Scarlet’s Walk and The Beekeeper that I wanted to embody the Mother Maiden and core essences within the being―because I find a lot of women, especially in this time of the right wing, don’t know how to be spiritual and sexual.

Either they’re puritanical, or their tits are hanging out all the time―that’s been a real bee in my bonnet, the program that [tells women] to be sexual. To counter that, you have to be nasty. I grenade that idea right out of the water! One side of yourself might be that vulgar tart, and I’ll hang out with her. I don’t mind a dirty girl. But what I find tragic is when we, as women, become not the subject of our own story, but someone else’s object.

That, to me, is playing into this role that women have held in Christianity for a long, long time. I refuse to be victimized by Christianity’s misrepresentation of our great mothers. I want to be an integrated woman.

Pulled from a 2006 Rolling Stone interview, Amos’ quote summarized a brief, albeit exciting chapter in her discography. Known for making the piano as intense a rock-and-roll instrument as the guitar, Amos’ approach had made her one of the leading talents in popular music. However, Amos was not going to retain her position as a risk-taker confined to the genre grip of alternative music expectationsfrom fans or critics.

The Beekeeper (Epic, 2005)Amos’ eighth recordwas received as a concession, or surrender, for broader pop acceptance. Was Amos, a newly minted wife and mother at this point, unable to maintain the fire that sparked her 1990s releases?

Mothers and wives can’t be rock-and-rollers; they surely that can’t be sex symbols! Though many female performers, genres aside, had shown this as false, the thought didn’t die. It went to the root of Amos’ argument of how women were (and are) viewed in society, subject to the heavy gaze of male scrutiny.

As ever, Amos readied herself to challenge that thinking with The Beekeeper. The cerebral, sexy sides it offered, like a foreign fruit, met apprehension. Those that indulged tasted Amos at her richest peak of flavor.

The History

Amos had reached her (first) creative apogee with From the Choirgirl Hotel (Atlantic, 1998). That combustible mingling of her piano pop and electronica had been a coup. Unfortunately, label politics began suffocating Amos and she wandered through the end of her contractual obligations to Atlantic Records with To Venus and Back (1999) and Strange Little Girls (2001). Released from that career abyss, Amos ventured to greener pastures at Epic Records.

Tori Amos, circa 2005

Tori Amos, circa 2005

Though the label later turned into another trap for Amos, she initiated her tenure there smoothly. Scarlet’s Walk (2002) immediately followed her signing to Epic and ushered in the second Tori Amos renaissance.

Akin to the ambitious sprawl of predecessor Joni Mitchell’s mid-70s recordings, Scarlet’s Walk was a rebirth. The experimentation with jazz music was unmistakable; songs such as “A Sorta Fairytale,” “Don’t Make Me Come to Vegas” and “Your Cloud” bore a light grooviness.

Amos calmly tuned Scarlet’s follow-up out of its autumn chamber pop and into something equatorialand continually rhythmic.

The Record

Theme continued to be the nexus of Amos’ recordings. The Beekeeper tackled the systemic condition of gender role identification of women through the patriarchal eyes of Christianity. It was the religiousand subsequently culturalidea that women were only allowed to inhabit two spaces: “the mother” or “the whore”. In her own words, Amos sought to “marry the Mary’s” that influenced women throughout historyMary, Mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene.

Additional analysis included Amos grouping the songs in various “gardens” according to lyrics; parallels also fell between that and the relationship of the bee, its hive and their beekeeper.

Despite Amos’ labyrinthine narrative, the songwriting of the LP was acute. Romance, betrayal, mortality and how women experienced these things and were empowered by them took precedence. Amos had crafted another record similar in shape to Scarlet’s Walk that forsook the overly cryptic approach common in her lyrics post-Boys for Pele (Atlantic, 1996).

While Amos was married and mothering her (then) young daughter, she still had much to say. America at the dawn of the 2000s was just trekking into the Iraq War; the conservatism that held the country in its sway was pervasive too.

"Sweet the Sting" single cover

“Sweet the Sting” single cover

With a quiet, insurrectionary stance, the pianist / vocalist addressed the political climate with “Barons of Surburbia,” “General Joy” and “Mother Revolution”.

The subject matter of the mentioned trio of songs couldn’t obscure their musical sexiness; part of that was owed to the contributions of Matt Chamberlain  (drums) and Jon Evans (bass). Both men had played with Amos on her albums and tours for a few years. The three artists laid down her curviest tunes with “Sweet the Sting,” “Witness” and “Hoochie Woman”all those works had background vocals courtesy of the London Gospel Community Choir.

Amos known for keeping her lyrical eye on others turned it on herself to furnish revealatory material. Whether recalling the passing her of brother (“Toast”), her maternal joy (“Ribbons Undone”) or passing the torch from mother to daughter (“The Beekeeper”), Amos unguarded mesmerized.

Her pen remained sharp even when the topics were soft. Love and trust were eloquently framed on the album opener “Parasol”a career highlight“Jamaica Inn” and “Sleeps With Butterflies”. The latter song could be called a “general love song,” but was artfully arranged with harmonies that gave it a “Tori twist”.

Amos’ sense of humor, often not seen enough in her music, grinned through on songs like “The Power of Orange Knickers” (with Damien Rice) and “Ireland”. They made for a refreshing listening journey.

The album clocked in at 19 tracks; length became sort of a sonic stumbling block for Amos by now. Interestingly, The Beekeeper would be the second album, after To Venus and Back, to not have b-sides readily available. But, three bonus cuts from The Beekeeper sessions did emerge: “Garlands” (on the limited DVD edition of the LP), “Dolphin Song” and “Not David Bowie” (on Piano: A Collection / Rhino, 2006).

Bright in its playful exploration of pop and jazz, The Beekeeper was friendlier than Scarlet’s Walk. As a producer, Tori Amos should have been proud of the record’s amity, even if it would be misconstrued.

The Impact

“Sleeps With Butterflies” was the first selection to introduce Amos’ new album to the public. The song was issued as a “promotional single” and thusly not available to fans physically. “Sleeps With Butterflies” hit American airwaves on 1/10/05; digital availability to fans came on 1/12/05.

The single found favor on the now defunct-U.S. Radios & Records AAA chart (#2); founded in 1973, the station/magazine allowed quirkier pop, alternative and rock music to reach audiences. It met its demise via absorption into VNU Media in 2006, a parent company of Billboard. Otherwise, “Sleeps With Butterflies,” Amos’ most commercially accessible single, created no ripples on any other major American or international chart.

Amos in the gardens of The Beekeeper

Amos in the gardens of The Beekeeper

The Beekeeper released in the global markets on 2/21/05 with the United States following on 2/22/05.

The album debuted strong across the world: U.S. Billboard 200 #5, U.K. #24, Canada #16, Germany #8, Norway, #6, ARIA #8. Released in conjunction with the LP was Piece By Piece; the book was written by Amos and renowned writer / feminist, Ann Powers. In the book, Amos discussed her personal life, and career, leading up to The Beekeeper

In its U.S. run overall, the album moved 295,000 copies; Amos’ sales had entered a slide and some saw The Beekeeper’s figures as impoverished after the chart restoration of Scarlet’s Walk.

The album and book met fair critical reception; Jon Pareles of The New York Times remarked favorably of the long player:

Ms. Amos will never be a conventional songwriter. She established herself in the 1990s with musically intricate but startlingly blunt songs about a young woman’s desires and traumas, gaining fans who have stayed with her as she moved from confession to character studies, from storytelling to abstraction. She still has a lot on her mind: lust, faith, motherhood, inconstancy, war, restlessness, death. And she has enough ambition to swirl them together in songs that spin dreamlike images and take musical detours at whim.

The Beekeeper is a generous, even overstuffed album, 19 songs and 79 minutes long, with an elaborate scheme involving six “gardens” of songs inspired by the six-sided cells of a honeycomb. (Ms. Amos has no fear of preciousness.) The lyrics are still collages of impressions, though usually with enough clues to piece them together. But The Beekeeper is also her most down-to-earth album in years, because Ms. Amos has decided she doesn’t have to pack every impulse into every song. Sometimes, now, a simple melody and a steady groove are enough.

However, not everyone was convinced of the pop sensitivity surrounding The Beekeeper. Mike Barthel of The Village Voice aligned his allegiance firmly with inaugural trilogy of Amos’ discography:

The Beekeeper is Tori-by-numbers, which isn’t necessarily bad—“Barons of Suburbia” whips the riff from “Precious Things” into the kind of ecstatic coda “Precious” itself builds to in concert. But mainly there’s either promising melodies (the “Crucify”-aping “Parasol”) ruined by cringe-y lyrics, or decent lyrical ideas executed like a Yoplait commercial. (“This is sooo good.” “Pirates good!” Cue bongos.)

If there’s a defining moment, it’s the coda of “Witness.” Backed by a gospel choir (!), you repeat the line “thought I had a witness,” but where it should be accusatory, the straight-from-the-Tori Amos-magnetic-poetry-set word boy dribbles from your mouth like half-chewed crumb cake over the lips of an Alzheimer’s patient. Also, one song has mandolins and bongos. Holy shit.

“Sleeps With Butterflies”

Directed By: Laurent Briet

Amos embarked on the corresponding live show for The Beekeeper, The Original Sinsuality Tour, on 4/1/05 in Clearwater, Florida. The show traveled across the world to return to American shores (Los Angeles) on 9/17/05. While thrilling audiences on the road, two more promotional singles were lifted from The Beekeeper: “Sweet the Sting” and “Cars and Guitars”. The selections made minimal-to-no impact on any charts.

In the decade since its appearance, The Beekeeper stands divisive among fans and critics. The Beekeeper let Amos balance contentment with confrontation, looping back around to refute the original issue that women couldn’t occupy multiple spaces at once. Mothers and wives could rock, could roll, could love, be sexy and smart. Tori Amos had “married the Mary’s,” and then some.

Ranking: Semi-Classic

[Editor’s Note: The Beekeeper is readily in print, digitally and physically. For current information on Tori Amos, visit her official website.-QH]

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