Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tori Amos 1: Little Earthquakes

To this day it’s still mistaken for Kate Bush, but Little Earthquakes immediately established Tori Amos as a dominant talent, and one of the most revered artists of the ‘90s. Not that this happened overnight. This was actually her second album on the Atlantic label, having since convinced the industry powerhouse to delete and bury Y Kant Tori Read, her eponymous hair-metal debut most notable today for employing Matt Sorum a year before Slash saw him play with The Cult. Having decided, rightfully, that the image that album perpetuated wasn’t really her, she determined to follow her instincts and find her “real” sound.
It took a while, and several producers, but Little Earthquakes is the statement of a woman truly comfortable in her own skin, and would become a guru for thousands of young women (and, to be fair, men) aching to be the same. It was an appealing package: a classically schooled pianist, with frizzy red hair and a contextually direct performance style: she eschewed the stool for a bench, while she’d straddle, half facing the audience, almost daring them to ogle.
This presentation would be especially provocative whenever she performed “Me And A Gun”, a harrowing a cappella piece recounting her experience of being raped. This factoid was never ignored during the promotion of the album, but unfortunately it would be mistaken as the main theme of “Silent All These Years”, the excellent first single. It may have something to do with that, but the larger message is that of speaking up, and not letting your voice be silenced.
The determination not to be victimized needn’t be restricted to sexual assault, and both “Crucify” and “Girl” can be taken as feminist anthems at their most basic. “Precious Things”, with its horror movie arrangement, and the cabaret-style “Leather” are songs about relationships, partially informed by growing up with a minister father. Speaking of which, “Winter” would appear to be more directly about him, but again, it’s a plea for self-acceptance, and the way her emotion catches in her throat on the final chorus will do the same for the listener. The string arrangement is suitably dramatic without being overblown. Some timely comic relief comes with “Happy Phantom”, a vaudeville jig about avenging one’s tormentors from beyond the grave.
Because her style is opaque, and informed by pagan and other influences, the songs are easy to misinterpret. “Mother”, a lengthy solo piece, conjures images of childhood, possible abuse and dancing lessons. The title track provides more of a sense of closure after “Me And A Gun”. So things like “China” and “Tear In Your Hand”, with their easy metaphors, rise above as excellent, catchy pop.
These interpretations will likely be scoffed at by more learned individuals; as a male there is no way I can begin to understand what it’s like to be female. But for whatever the reason, Little Earthquakes was worth all the work Tori Amos put into it, and it still triggers emotional reactions with every play. And its simple girl-and-her-piano sound was a welcome alternative in the early grunge era.
The cult of Tori grew fairly quickly and fervently, and new fans clamoring for anything else she’d done were left to trade bootleg copies of Y Kant Tori Read, or spend a little less on various CD singles, which sported rarities as bonus tracks (or what we used to call B-sides). Such gems as “Flying Dutchman”, “Upside Down”, and “Here. In My Head” were in the running for the album proper, and she’d even play some of them at her shows. When Little Earthquakes came due for an expansion two decades later, many of these rarities—another album’s worth—were included on a bonus disc, along with five live recordings that demonstrate how she could spellbind a crowd. (Rearranged covers were also a hallmark of her shows and singles, but of the ones from this era, only “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, which Kurt Cobain himself appreciated, made it to the Deluxe Edition.)

Tori Amos Little Earthquakes (1992)—4
2015 Deluxe Edition: same as 1992, plus 18 extra tracks

No comments:

Post a Comment