Wednesday, September 27
The first Tori Amos song I ever remember hearing was "God" off of her second "proper" album, Under the Pink. I didn't like it. There was something just a little too intense about it. It scared me.
So, when a friend approached me not long after with a copy of Ms. Amos's FIRST "proper" album, Little Earthquakes, my instinct was to run as though fleeing fire. But I didn't. Instead, I reluctantly accepted the disc, reluctantly slipped it into my CD player, reluctantly strapped on my trusty headphones, and reluctantly settled in to listen to the thing with the very lowest of expectations.
To say that those expectations were exceeded would be the ultimate of understatements. As it happened, I only had time enough that day to listen to the first five tracks before scampering off to class. Now, a full 12 years later, I still consider that particular stretch of music to be pretty much perfect - intensely intimate and vulnerable, yet empowering. Intense (there's that word again), yet fragile. Sometimes, Amos pounds her piano to a pulp; other times, she just barely breathes on its keys. Either way, Earthquakes is a bona fide masterpiece - one that was highly influential in the years leading up to the whole Lilith womyn "thing."
I can't say that I've liked anything Tori Amos has put out since that time nearly as much (though Under the Pink bears much fruit with repeated listens and Scarlet's Walk seems a lot stronger to me now than it did when it first came out). For whatever reason, her lyrics gradually strayed toward the hysterically esoteric (especially on Boys For Pele), and she began to downplay the lilting strings and layered vocal freakouts that were so crucial to Little Earthquakes. 2005's The Beekeeper, to my ears, was easily her least interesting effort to date - a record so middle-of-the-road and mundane I could barely soldier through to the end.
Yesterday saw the release of A Piano: The Collection - a five-disc box set that collects a goodly number of Amos's b-sides, remixes, covers, and "classic" tracks. Devoted fans will no doubt gobble this up with abandon - even if they've previously procured this music through... um... "alternative" means. As with any collection of this size, there are, to be sure, some diamonds to be discovered. But most of it's coal. Which won't matter one iota to tenacious Tori-philes. They love their Faerie Queen. They love her nursery-rhyme non-sequiturs. They love her big-gulp, trill-alicious singing. They love her borderline-pornographic live piano playing - writhing and gyrating as though her stool were a stove set to "SCORCH." But, perhaps most of all, they love the fact that Tori Amos's music is an acquired taste - "anchovies," as opposed to "potato chips." Anybody can love potato chips. Only a select few can say they're fond of the fishies.
[MP3] "Blue Skies"
[MP3] "A Case of You" [Joni Mitchell cover]
[MP3] "The Happy Worker"