Addicted To Noise
There is a great review of "from the choirgirl hotel" by Beth Winegarner posted at the Addicted To Noise web site.
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from the choirgirl hotel
Salvaging Beauty From Loss
By Beth Winegarner
Tori Amos is a songstress of many hats, some of which are more flattering than others.
She started out sporting a rock-chick hat, along with a bustier and the requisite spandex pants, back in the pop-metal Y Kant Tori Read days. Then it was the chapeau of survival with Little Earthquakes, the centerpiece of which is the a capella "Me And a Gun," Amos' account of being sexually assaulted. (Amos would later refer to this experience in more flippant terms: "I got my rape hat on/But I always could accessorize," she quips in "Talula.") By the time Amos' last album, Boys for Pele, hit record shops in 1996, she was wearing too many caps to count: producer, piano prodigy, first-class fruitcake.
On Amos' highly-anticipated fifth album, from the choirgirl hotel, the girl with the piano reveals just how well she can accessorize. Amos warned everyone she'd allow that piano to take a back seat this time around, and many longtime fans were afraid that the Tori they loved would be left in the dust. Instead, she's more alive than ever, with a full band -- including the Meters' George Porter, Jr., drummer Matt Chamberlin (who's played with Edie Brickell, Pearl Jam, Critters Buggin) and Amos' longtime guitarist Steve Caton -- to back her up.
The result is a new Amos sound, one that is richer, more complex, more polished -- and in many ways more accessible -- than some of her previous efforts, especially the discordant Pele. And while Amos' prior works served up huge helpings of cayenne pepper, chocolate, or sometimes castor oil, choirgirl is like a satisfying, balanced meal.
Most of Amos' recordings have been informed by tragedy and loss, and choirgirl is no different. Around Christmas of 1996, Amos suffered a miscarriage, and the new album speaks directly to the loss of that child.
In the first single,"Spark," Amos' voice is coolly distorted as she sings, "She's convinced she could hold back a glacier/But she couldn't keep a baby alive." Throughout the song she curses the "divine master plan" and the Fates, but her anger is restrained behind layers of keyboard, drums and piano. Only during the bridge does the roiling piano reveal shades of rage.
There is "Jackie's Strength," a string-laden piano piece that seems to be both a personal search for inner fortitude and a tribute to a nation of woman who looked to Jackie Kennedy as role model. The song presents a flip side to Amos' "Professional Widow" from Pele, a song which attacked women who construct their careers from the ashes of their dead husbands.
Instead of sending her songs to the remix artists this time around, Amos did her own dance tracks in-house. choirgirl is well- informed by the club scene in England (where Amos recorded the album), especially in sultry tracks like "Cruel" and "Liquid Diamonds," and the jaunty, dizzying "Raspberry Swirl."
In "Iieee," Amos unites a club sensibility with her penchant for gut-punching lyrics. "We scream at cathedrals/Why can't it be beautiful/Why does there gotta be a sacrifice?" Her voice is like a force of nature, pulling listeners in.
Amos lets her bluesy side come through in the mind-bending "She's Your Cocaine," a study on love's power structures. "She says you control it/Then she says you don't control it/Then she says you're controlling/The way she makes you crawl," Amos howls in her best PJ Harvey sendup. The band is in full force here; "Cocaine" will make a great number to jam on when Amos takes it on the road.
All the elements on choirgirl are distilled in "Hotel," which moves effortlessly from techno to baroque to piano thrash, never losing its harrowing feel. The song is like a spy novel, with Amos constantly seeking someone just out of reach. "You were wild/where are you now?" she yearns as the music shifts into a Nine Inch Nails-inspired interlude. Later, we hear snatches of the harpsichord from Pele as she trills, "I have to learn to let you crash down." And in yet another segment Amos and her piano break free in an exhilarating -- and musically tricky -- romp that's one of the best moments on the album.
The only things keeping choirgirl from being a perfect album are a few cloying moments in songs like "Northern Lad" -- which sounds too much like something Amos would have sung in bars 15 years ago -- as well as Amos' occasionally cryptic lyrics, some of which may never be translated into common English.
But her ability to communicate through the tones of her voice, as well as through the impeccable structures of her music, are what make Amos so well-loved. "Don't judge me so harsh little girl/so you got a playboy mommy," Amos pleads in "Playboy Mommy," one of the most moving pieces on choirgirl. The tension between her desire to devote all her energy to her career and her desire to be a mother has taken its toll on Amos, and that message rings loud and clear here. "I'll say it loud here by your grave/Those angels can't ever take my place."
"Merman," a track only available through the Internet to those who order choirgirl from Tower Records, is a heart-wrenching lullaby sung to the spirit of her departed child: "Sleep now/You're my little girl/Go to bed/The priests are dead." It's just Amos and her piano, their bare tones revealing pure sorrow.
Amos may be mourning the loss of something precious, but she's never sounded so alive.
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