10. Tori Amos, Scarlet's Walk (Epic, 2002)

This icon spent at least half a decade bewildering fans of Little Earthquakes with a slew of unusual, challenging, and often obtuse offerings that left little doubt she really did wanna be the next Kate Bush, only weirder. After the torturous covers record Strange Little Girls, few expected to hear anything accessible (or remotely likable) from her ever again--which is what partially makes this album an absolute stunner. Certainly a return to form but not exactly a retreat, Scarlet's Walk takes the original template of Amos’ early '90s work and applies to it all of the musical dexterity she's acquired in the interim. Inspired by her tour across America in the weeks following 9/11, this 18-track, 75-minute set is as sprawling and ambitious as Boys For Pele. But where that one felt insular, loose and occasionally schizophrenic, this one's inviting, disciplined and unswerving. While I have difficulty tracing the album's lyrical trajectory across the zigzagging map of the United States included in the CD booklet, I do get a keen sense of how these songs coalesce into an arresting, stream-of-consciousness travelogue. I also sense that, for the first time, Amos seems wholly aware of a world beyond herself and the faeries.