The Detroit News
Tori! Tori! Tori!
Caption: Tori Amos
By Kevin Ransom
When she reins herself in, Tori Amos demonstrates brilliant musical talent.
Here's the cutline information flush left, and heand ragged right
As The Wonder Years' Fred Savage once said about a dweeby classmate who wore her hair in three pigtails and carried her pet fruit bat around in a shoe box: Mama, this chick is weird.
After spending 71 minutes listening to Tori Amos' latest album, Boys For Pele, you might reach the same conclusion.
For starters, one photo in Pele's CD booklet depicts Amos -- who performs Friday at the Fox Theatre in Detroit -- with her shirt unbuttoned, cradling a baby pig as though she's breast-feeding it. In another, Amos is down on all fours on a filthy mattress -- out in the middle of a cow pasture -- with her head hanging down sullenly.
Evidently, one person's art is another's pretentious folly.
Then there's Amos' mannered, tongue-twisting singing style, which is often compared to that of Kate Bush. But too often, Amos' overly breathy vocal trills, fractured phonetics, atonal lamblike bleats and florid, fluttery falsetto make Bush's ethereal affectations sound like John Lee Hooker with a head cold.
Amos' lyrics, meanwhile, aspire to a mystical, Dylanesque surrealism. But lines like "If I lose my Cracker Jacks at the tidal wave / I got a place in the pope's rubber robe" or "Ratatouille Strychnine, sometimes she's a friend of mine / With a gigantic whirlpool / That will blow your mind" actually sound more like a ninth-grader's drug-induced poesy.
When she reins herself in, however, onetime child prodigy Amos reveals the astonishing musicality and brilliant piano technique that landed her in the prestigious Peabody Conservatory when she was only 5 years old. (She could play piano by ear when she was just 2 and was composing her own scores by 4.)
When properly inspired, Amos is capable of sweeping, quietly majestic melodies; thoughtful, lovely arrangements and the sort of rippling, arpeggio piano figures that normally resonate through Orchestra Hall.
"I was a freak child who had really good rhythm," Amos, 32, recently told an interviewer. "I realized I had some kind of calling. But I also realized it was more important to follow my own path and not the one that was laid down by others."
But it is not Amos' virtuoso piano talents that endear her to legions of schoolgirls all over America. It's her impenetrable poeticism, self-indulgent quirkiness and head-in-the-clouds, fairy-story mythmaking. Those qualities propelled her first two albums -- 1992's Little Earthquakes and her '94 follow-up, Under The Pink -- to worldwide sales of two million copies each.
Although Amos always has dabbled in medieval, Tolkein-esque fantasies, she also embraces contemporary ideas -- like her disdain for patriarchal culture and her strong feminist stance. Amos' passion on those issues can be traced to her strict religious upbringing -- her father was a Methodist minister -- and to the fact that, several years ago, she was raped. She chillingly detailed her rape experience in the song "Me and a Gun" from Earthquakes.
But on Pele, Amos really turns up the juice, with her acrid rants against religion, her father and domineering men in general. Not coincidentally, it's also the first Amos album to get a less-than-glowing review from Rolling Stone -- from a female critic, no less.
That critic, Evelyn McDonnell, gave Pele two stars (out of five), and wrote: "To borrow from the mushy-headed New Age feministspeak that is Amos' stock in trade, she's on a mission to reclaim her inner goddess. ... It's hard to muddle through the enigmatic artifice and fanciful metaphors that Amos wraps around her songs like so much obscuring gauze. ... It's (also) hard to get past the fact that she has thanked 'the faeries' on all her albums."
One presumes, after listening to an Amos-penned line like "You're a star ----, just like my Daddy," that she no longer has a relationship with her father. One of Amos' new songs is the not-so-subtle "Father Lucifer." And in "Muhammed My Friend," she indulges in a bit of feminist theological revisionism that, to some ears, also will sound sacrilegious: "It's time to tell the world / That it was a girl / Back in Bethlehem / When she was crucified ... We drank tea by her side."
The more self-indulgent passages of Pele -- and the decision to release it as a 71-minute, 18-song album -- are the result of Amos producing it herself after she split with her lover and producer Eric Rosse.
Amos recently conceded as much when she said: "This time, there was nobody looking over my shoulder saying, 'Why don't you do it this way?' So I had complete license to take the songs wherever I felt they should go."
A sexual current also pulses through Amos' music. The title of her album Under The Pink was a thinly veiled sexual allusion. Onstage, she straddles her piano bench and grinds her hips in a way that's only slightly less provocative than Demi Moore's pelvic thrusting in Striptease. Amos' new songs are rife with sexual metaphors -- some of them not so gentle. In that respect, it's easy to hear those songs in the context of her split with Rosse.
"But these songs aren't about who's sleeping with whom," Amos recently said. "They're about the extreme kind of viciousness that's being played out (in a romance) -- even as you exchange honeysuckle.
"This album was inspired by my relationships with men. And some of those relationships had reached a crossroads, where I realized I was stealing fire from men," said Amos, dipping into her deep well of New Age jargon. "That's what I needed to write about. But I had to be on my knees before I could be absolutely honest, before I could find my own fire."
Whatever that means.
7 and 11 p.m. Friday
2211 Woodward, Detroit
Tickets: $27.50 (7 p.m. show sold out)
Call: (810) 433-1515
Copyright 1996, The Detroit News
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