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Disclaimer: this page is not written from the point of view of a Tori Amos fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Tori Amos fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Year Of Release: 1992
Overall rating =

She's got talent - the way I understand talent - but she ain't got taste - the way I understand taste. Was that PC enough for you?

Best song: CRUCIFY

Track listing: 1) Crucify; 2) Girl; 3) Silent All These Years; 4) Precious Things; 5) Winter; 6) Happy Phantom; 7) China; 8) Leather; 9) Mother; 10) Tear In Your Hand; 11) Me And A Gun; 12) Little Earthquakes.

My first, original, intelectually untampered-with reaction to this album: 'Wow, sounds like a serious early period Kate Bush rip-off, but sounds good!'. The second reaction, then, even less tampered with, was 'wow, that sounds like a damn straight Kate Bush rip-off, but it sounds real damn good.' Then the third - and wisest, since it's finally been tampered with just a little - reaction was like: 'well, this certainly sounds worse than Kate Bush, but it also sounds somewhat different.' You cluin' in on me and my progressive development or what?

This is a fuckin' gamble if there ever was one, and a fuckin' gamble is always won, which makes all the difference from a boring gamble. The stakes were high, too. About 99% probability is, you'll either love this record, and consequently join the faithful legion of Toriphiles, or you'll despise it with every fibre of your soul, and consequently start coming up with subconscious racist theories about how redheads shouldn't be let near a recording studio or something like that. Basically, this is an album that falls under the category of what I like to call "aggressive introspectivity". (Okay, what I would like to call - I honestly invented the term just now). In other words, a record that cries out the following message: 'Look at me! You have to look at me! There's tremendous mental torment on here, the likes of which you have never experienced before! Bow before the suffering tormented mind! Cry! Sympathize! Worship! And if you do not - well, why, you're just a soulless little snubby prick. Go back to your Eminem records' Naturally, people either fall under this spell or refuse to do it. It's your dime.

And this is actually what is different between Tori Amos and Kate Bush (and, actually, many other Lilith Fair acts both preceding and following Tori, starting with Suzanne Vega and so on). The tormented mind; the deeply personal feel of every single song. Tori doesn't write impersonal abstractions. If I may be allowed a metaphor, then I'll say that Kate - still undeniably Tori's number one influence - is like a majestic ivory tower, absolutely impossible to penetrate, and even if you do manage to penetrate it, you'll surprisingly find out this isn't at all the place where you thought you'd find yourself to be in the end. Tori, on the other hand, not only allows you inside, she forces you inside. She takes revenge on you. On all of you.

Sometimes in a very brutal way, too. I like this album quite a bit, but let me first say that as an artistic statement, I thoroughly despise 'Me And A Gun', arguably the album's centerpiece. There, that's done it. It's one of those songs that seems to leave you no choice but to sympathize along with poor Tori - after all, it was written based on the arguably true fact of her being raped by a "fan" after a show in 1985 (I say "arguably" because there seem to be arguments debating the sincerity of that story poppin' up all the time, but believe me, that doesn't really interest me as much as it should). And when I say no choice, I mean no choice: it's an accapella piece. No piano, no orchestration, nothing. Just 'me and a gun and a man on my back'. It's like that Dancing In The Dark movie where the standard complaint is always that the viewer is literally forced to tears by the brutally exaggerated situation. Yeah, I sympathize and all, but I normally expect more subtlety in the matter. Besides, what do the rapist's father or Mr Ed have to do with the accident? And to top it all, the song includes the following lines: 'You can laugh/It's kind of funny/Things you think/Times like this'. My dear Tori, we are not laughing. Honestly, you do not need to tell me that rape is a horrible thing. I am a sane, normal citizen, and I know it. Believe you me, I won't laugh. And believe you me, people who do laugh at these things aren't going to feel too much remorse about it after having listened to your record - in fact, people who do laugh at these things will never be listening to it in the first place.

Anyway, thanks to God and a lucky quality called 'restraint', 'Me And A Gun' is the only thing with such a brutally direct "tear-jerker" message on the album. (That's my problem with it - to my ears, it sounds like a prime technical "tear-jerker" rather than a true emotional outburst). Not that the other songs are really any less self-pitying, mind you, but at least this is veiled self-pity - and also well-written, well-sung, and well-recorded. The majority of the songs is just Tori and her piano, or at least these two form the focus of the song; at times, you will get minimal orchestration to enforce the melody, sometimes a rhythm section (actually, mostly just a heavy drumset) will join in, and a couple of tracks have dark murky atmospheric electric guitar pinned somewhere in the background. However, this actually sounds good. If you're opting for memorability, that would only concern the vocal melodies - with most of the songs containing solid emotional hooks; but if you listen hard, Tori actually does some excellent piano work beneath these vocal melodies, alternating touches of classical with jazz, folk, and music hall, and she's really swell at her instrument, making me wonder what the hell forced her to have her first band play generic pop-metal (so they say; I've personally never heard Y Kant Tori Read).

Lyrically, one could probably write a book analyzing these songs - Tori sure got the gift. That said, an absolute majority of the songs still comes back to the main recurrent theme: 'I suffer'. Why I suffer is never quite clear, but possibly there are many reasons. The rape incident, sexism in general (check out the beginning of 'Leather'), everyday life banality ('Crucify', 'Girl'), alienation ('China'), etc., etc., same old story told in terms interesting enough to warrant at least being able to sit through this all without squirming too much. About the only "cheerful" song on the entire album is the music-hall-influenced 'Happy Phantom', which is just a funny lightweight ditty cleverly placed in the middle of the album to relieve some tension.

Still, I'm not sure Little Earthquakes, as good as it generally is, could be enough to make a Toriphile out of me. And taken on their own, without the bonus of "every single song on here is great because it's infested with the magnificent spirit of the most wonderful female artist in the world" attitude, the songs are uneven. My favourite ones are all grouped near the beginning. 'Crucify' is alternately bouncy and powerful and it boasts Tori's most delightful vocal "Bush-ism" as she croons the 'chaai-yaye-yaye-yains!' refrain. (That line about 'a cat named Easter' really grates on me, though - what, just another ad hoc useless religious term? Or was that a real cat at least?..). 'Girl' decries conformism and lack of individuality in the equally powerful lines 'she's been everybody else's girl, maybe one day she'll be her own' sung with a delicate and charming nonchalance - and backed with a solemn, morose orchestral part. 'Silent All These Years'... well, there's too few different things I can say about these songs. It's just her and a piano and pain and a little touch of Mantovani and pain a glass of white wine and pain and a faraway sunset and pain. No hysterics, though.

I'm also a big sucker for 'Leather' (a touch of music hall never hurt anyone, besides, when you suck the genericism out of music hall and replace it with ice cold, that counts as high art, doesn't it?), and while 'China' has about as much to do with the real China musically as Kate Bush's 'Egypt' has to do with Egypt, in terms of lyrics and atmosphere the two songs are very close, lush, romantic, and at the same time (intentionally) childish and naive fantasies about Far Away Mystical Places. However, the second half seriously starts to drag, with the seven-minute epics 'Mother' and 'Little Earthquakes' being just pieces of pure atmosphere which I will not be taking from an artist as derivative as Tori Amos. Considering that it also contains 'Me And My Gun', that makes up for a pretty anticlimactic ending when compared with the energetic beginning.

See, I like Tori Amos, but it's hardly possible for me to revere her because I cannot revere artists who are so obsessed with making their fans revere them. I never felt that way about Kate Bush; Little Earthquakes makes me feel that way from start to finish. And me, I don't work well under pressure. Besides, I'm a gruesome male chauvinist pig, stubbornly declining to accept the Truth from squatting female redheads. (Well, I am ready to accept the Truth from Joni Mitchell or Kate Bush, but everybody knows they're really just men in drag).



Year Of Release: 1994
Overall rating =

Less self-pitying = more good songs, if only she could lay off that piano for a while.


Track listing: 1) Pretty Good Year; 2) God; 3) Bells For Her; 4) Past The Mission; 5) Baker Baker; 6) The Wrong Band; 7) The Waitress; 8) Cornflake Girl; 9) Icicle; 10) Cloud On My Tongue; 11) Space Dog; 12) Yes Anastasia.

I got one hell of a nasty impression here. It was all tolerable and relatively neat until we got around to the last third, and then it was just me and a gun, er, I mean, her and the ivory keys, and it went on and on and on until I literally howled in despair: "Somebody drag that bitch away from the stool! Oh, a kingdom for some Rammstein!" Needless to say, for a while I was pretty sure that Under The Pink would be the final nail in the coffin that'd forever separate me from introspective redheads.

But the next day, it passed, and that brought me to the other songs - and they were good. Better than last time around, in fact. Complex, but hook-filled, and, what's most important, never once as fully obvious as 'Crucify' or that miserable rape song. Oh, there's still plenty of emotional torture (no doubt exacerbated by Tori's cervical cancer treatment - yes, yes, yes, okay, she has suffered much, but then again, so has Jesus, and he never took the time to get himself a lyre and write 'Me And A Cross' before the Ascension), but it's smoother now, and grows on rather than off, unless you're not me and are actually reading this review because you've never seen it before rather than for spellchecking purposes.

Maybe it helped that the entire album was recorded in Taos, New Mexico. I've been to Taos, the perfect place to communicate with the God of your own choice and capture as many eclectic spiritual vibes as possible, and it certainly soothes the soul and solaces the spirit. Hence the general calmness of the album which only lets it rip - and even then, fairly gently - in a small corner of 'Yes Anastasia' (because if that song never let rip no-one would have been able to endure the whole of it) and in the refrain of 'Cornflake Girl' (because, hey, a potential hit single is a potential hit single. You can't get people to buy your records if you're just mumbling to yourself over a bunch of mushy piano chords, unless, of course, you're a specially designed CIA plot with the codename "Vanessa Carlton").

Oh yes, it also lets rip in the middle of the opening track, 'Pretty Good Year'. If you try to stack all the songs neatly in two piles, you'll find that one pile is the "rhythm-and-hook" pile and the other one is "let me remember my classically trained skills on these keys" pile, and speaking of the second one, I don't think you need more than just one tune to represent them all, and 'Pretty Good Year' is a darn fine choice. A subtle, somewhat nonchalant album opener which - predictably? - hits you on the head in the middle, with a brief wail of desperation on the "what's it gonna taieee-aieeee-ake?" section, and then drops back into nonchalance again. A trivial move, for sure, but executed with near-brilliance because, well, she is talented, whatever else I might sputter. And lyrics that actually mean nothing, for once, even if she makes them seem like they do mean something. Clever.

But I'm still a hunter for the "rhythm-and-hook" category; the few bits of exquisite taste that Tori has got, she drops in these - for instance, the oddly screaming and squelching guitar played by long-time pal Steve Caton on 'God'. Throw in some moody whoo-hoos, an undecipherable refrain ('God sometimes you just don't come through' - never in my life would I have made it out without a lyrics sheet), tricky piles of several units of Tori Amos harmonising in different dimensions, and there's a perfect "number two" song to hold your interest until all that solo piano dreck comes and sweeps the flowers away. And everybody knows 'Cornflake Girl' and there's nothing wrong about it because it's a rare case of an artist really deserving to be known through his/her biggest international hit. Some music hall influence, something as deeply personal as it is incomprehensible, a mandolin, and a fine, unforgettable contrast between all the "hiccup-hiccup it's a-not gonna happen - YOU BET YOUR LIFE IT IS!" reprises. Let's face it, she knows her crafts(wo)manship darn well.

I can't say all of this moves my soul and spirit too far, but then I was never sure if it was worth the while to get them moved by someone like Tori, so I'm just diggin' the hooks and reveling in the curious musical solutions. The most emotionally ringing moment, for all I know, comes in the chorus of 'Past The Mission', and that may well be due to the striking "disbalance" between the light, almost fluffy verses and the deeply produced, morosely serious refrain. Quiet, calm refrain. Because when she gets to 'The Waitress', with the hysterical refrain ('I believe in peace, bitch!'), I don't feel any emotional response - just a bit of technical admiration for how well she handles it. Here's this quiet, somber, rhythm with a silly drum machine getting on your nerves and the protagonist mumbling about wanting to kill a lous waitress and then all of a sudden she goes psychopathic - 'I BELIEVE IN PEACE!' and then she reverts back to mumbling on homicidal subjects. That's, like, smart. Not necessarily uplifting or depressing or sunny or rainy, but... smart.

Every now and then, though, you bump into that second stack, with trouble brewing every minute. If you love the sound of a piano - if you feel the magic energy between her little silky hand and the supreme whiteness of the holy marble surface, that kind of thing - and if the little witch has already got you under her carroty spell, songs like 'Bells For Her', 'Baker Baker', 'Icicle', and especially the nine-minute sonic Panzer of 'Yes Anastasia' will be more than welcome. Otherwise, and that covers my case, you'll be running for cover into the arms of 'God' and 'Cornflake Girl'. That said, I must say that I have learned to enjoy parts of 'Anastasia' - especially the middle chunk when the piano dies away (much too good!) and the awesome prog-oriented orchestration steps in. There's enough dynamics within these nine minutes so as not to make me hate the proceedings, and that's more than I could ask for.

Besides, even some of the other songs are really songs. It's only towards the end that they gradually stop being songs and start turning into amorphous acoustic constructions for spiritually perverted people (no offense intended - I love spiritually perverted people, although not necessarily the music they're listening to). 'Bells For Her', for instance, true to its name, builds a melody out of a set of chimes on top of which Tori is singing verse-chorus, verse-chorus. It's simply slow, moody, and trance-like, and the more you fall into the trance, the less you're able to notice the fine construction. 'The Wrong Band' is jiggety and fidgety and even a little... loungey when it isn't slipping into the soft squishy parts. 'Icicle' and 'Cloud On My Tongue', though, I find really hard to swallow. I don't need any of that when I got me my Chopin and Liszt (both of whom were just a tiny bit more qualified in writing academic music for the piano than Tori is).

As for what concerns any deep message or unifying theme or even overall atmosphere, I never noticed that much, and all for the better. The title presumes we're dealing with girl problems here, ones of a deeply internal nature, and I would probably want to refrain from pronouncing judgement on that (not even being a gynecologist or anything). Supposedly that's why I don't get any of the lyrics (maybe a little bit of research could help, but the mere prospect of reading an interview with Tori Amos makes me shit my pants in horror), and that, for certain reasons, makes me happy. With no intellectual reasoning pro or contra the vibe of Under The Pink, I can simply take it for what it is: a whole bunch of interesting, memorable songs, occasionally drowned in a sea of useless piano wanking but for the most part, deserving to be loved for what it is: a whole bunch of... Oh, sorry.

I do reiterate, though, that Under The Pink is nowhere near as accessible as Little Earthquakes. But I do tip my hat to UK record buyers who managed to make this and not its predecessor into Tori's best selling album. Might have been just the inertia push, of course, or maybe it was the success of the obviously commercial 'Cornflake Girl', but still, a feat is a feat. Best album = most sold copies = something you don't notice too often in real life. I wish more artists would spend more time recording in Taos. Nice place, Taos.


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