On her debut solo album,
Tori Amos introduced herself to the world as a study in contradictions.
Here was a singer-songwriter with the attitude of an alternative rocker;
a classically trained pianist who stressed emotion over technique, a
sometimes spacey, new-age chanteuse with a flair for cynical satire, and a
raging punk who could also play the flighty faerie princess.
As the disc's "Tori-in-a-box" cover art evocatively illustrated, Amos
would never be an artist who could be pigeonholed, stereotyped or walled in
in any way. She proudly flaunted the many conflicting sides of her artistic
persona, leaving listeners to sort out what it all means.
Great Albums: Tori
Amos 'Little Earthquakes' (1992)
3. "Silent All These Years"
4. "Precious Things"
6. "Happy Phantom"
10. "Tear in Your Hand"
11. "Me and a Gun"
12. "Little Earthquakes"
"The generalization thing just isn't working anymore," Amos told me not
long after the album's release. "It's about individuals. I think there are a
lot of women speaking about it. There is a next wave, but it's exciting,
because it's not about 'me against you.' It's about what I'm feeling. It's
about women exploring themselves."
Amos grew up in Baltimore, the outspoken daughter of a Scottish Methodist
preacher and a mother who was part Cherokee. She was a child prodigy on the
piano, entered the Peabody Institute at age 5 and was expelled at 11. In the
late '80s, she fronted a pop-metal band called Y Kant Tori Read. The group
released one album that flopped, prompting Amos to move to England in 1990.
There, she reinvented herself as a solo artist and began recording her
debut, drawing inspiration from a number of heroines ranging from Kate Bush
to Patti Smith.
Working on several tracks with producer and then-boyfriend Eric Rosse,
Amos kept the sound spare but tuneful, mostly focusing on her fluid piano
playing and soaring vocals. Like Leonard Cohen before her, she proved that
these two simple sonic elements can pack as powerful a wallop as Nirvana's
crushing guitar, bass and drums. (Shortly after the album's release, she
paid homage to the Seattle trio with her own striking cover of "Smells Like
Teen Spirit," which none other than Kurt Cobain hailed for its creative
reimagining of his song.)
But what really elevated "Little Earthquakes" from similarly minimalist
singer-songwriter, adult-alternative fare was its songs' emotional content.
Amos tackles hot-button topics such as gender stereotyping, religious
conservatism, male hegemony and rape in a frank, unflinching, and
alternately poignant and heartbreakingly funny manner. "Crucify" is a brutal
look in the mirror of self-examination ("Every finger in the room is
pointing at me/I wanna spit in their faces.../Why do we crucify
ourselves/Every day I crucify myself"). "Girl" chronicles the
never-ending search for a strong feminine identity ("She's been everybody
else's girl/Maybe someday she'll be her own"), while "Silent All These
Years" is a furious protest against an unnamed man (her father? a lover?)
who has kept her down for far too long ("Well, I love the way we
communicate/Your eyes focus on my funny lip shape/Let's hear what you think
of me now but baby don't look up/The sky is falling").
All three of these uncompromising songs were hits, establishing Amos'
career and paving the way for a wave of equally assertive female
singer-songwriters who followed. But the album's most striking track, and
the one most indicative of the artist's honest-at-all-costs approach, is "Me
and a Gun," a harrowing a cappella account of her experience with rape ("Me
and a gun/And a man/On my back/But I haven't seen Barbados/So I must get out
Like a great, soulful blues artist, Amos finds catharsis from personal
pain in her music. But like the best rock 'n' rollers (Cobain among them),
she entertains, inspires and energizes while she's doing it. And the impact
of her songs is indeed like the "little earthquakes" referenced in the
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