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New Musical Express (UK)
January 11, 1992



GINGER NUT

She's a Grade A, Class One, Turbo-driven Fruitcake, but Southern Belle TORI AMOS might just be the antidote to all those cloying bottle blonde bimbettes currently hogging the spotlight. BARBARA ELLEN reckons so -- but makes a mental note of the exits all the same. The latest craze: AJ BARRATT

Of course, the real news about Tori Amos is that she's genuine article, platinum-plated, 100 percent crazy.

Being a music journalist, one gets to know a thing or two about crazy. For instance, most musicians want to be it, masking the stench of their desperate ordinariness with increasingly lame hints at Weird Kid pasts when you know that the nearest they've ever come to eccentricity is blowing off at the back of the Sports Hall on speech day. Like BO sufferers with too much blind faith in Old Spice, these characters are easy to sniff out in the end.

Tori, however, is the real McCoy, a 24-karat fruitloop for whom palm-shaving is a daily chore. All of which is very fortunate for her publicist because, on paper, Tori Amos (female singer/songwriter/28-year-old/looks like a Ginger Andie McDowell/sounds like Natalie Merchant in a bad mood or Mary Margaret O'Hara after several sessions of expensive therapy...) doesn't exactly grab you where it matters.

Without the 'crazy' angle, Tori, despite being interesting, personable and talented, would have merited perhaps a lazy Kate Bush comparison or two, before being consigned to that old graveyard in the sky where scary females waving acoustic guitars and screaming the mantra "Tracy Chapman... Tracy Chapman..." roam out their days. Alternatively, she could have ended up 14th on the bill at the Cambridge Folk Festival. A fate worse than death by anybody's standards.

With the 'crazy' angle, Tori gets to sit across the table of a West End cafe and wriggle non-existent eyebrows at terrified female pop hacks (scant eyebrow matter comes third only to hairy palms and one too many nostrils on my personal Psycho Checklist). Close-up, looks-wise she's weird-beautiful with the accent on weird. Metallic-red hair coils and fizzes with lunatic abandon around a face mysteriously devoid of all the usual human 'extras'. In place of apparently disposable stuff and nonsense like Expression, Definition and Lucidity, Tori boasts an uncooked sausage pallor and terrible, grginning eyes. My first thought is: "Help!". My second is "Hillbilly". My third involves the words "Run" and "For it", as it sinks in that Tori is telling me about an upbringing straight out of Deliverance.

RAISED BY a family of preachers in North Carolina, Tori lived out a childhood normally only enjoyed by people with crumpets for ears and a penchant for banjo-playing followed by a harmless game of Skin The City Slicker before bedtime.

"Real dark hillbilly territory," confirms Tori, "like, you'd look wrong at the farmers' daughter and you'd wonder if the next day you'd be found at the bottom of some river. It wasn't that they didn't like me. In that part of the world you're either an insider or an outsider and I was never an insider. I was tolerated because they knew who I was. I was Eddie's daughter, the preacher's girl..."

"It's not quite so backward now as it was in the late '60s... but still when I take people down to the darm they feel like they're in a timewarp because, in certain parts of the Deep South, it's like the land that time forgot..."

If Tori lost out in terms of childhood geographics, she didn't make up for it with her relatives. The way she tells it, any self-respecting social worker would have begged The Manson Family to take on fostering duties rather than leave the young and vulnerable Tori in an environment dominated by a matriarchal granny super-preacher. A well-meaning but tiresome God-bothering wrinkly, she'd think nothing of writing her grand-daughter six-page epistles at Christmas "about morbidity... and how I could expect something nice in my stocking if I loved Jesus and stayed a virgin until I married." Tori sighs, then raps the table aggressively. "When I mentioned to my brother and sister that, in retrospect, what Grandmother used to say to us was a bit sick and twisted their reaction was incredible. They're reasonable, professional people but they looked at me like I'd just shot Jesus."

Sick of being a square peg in a round hole, Tori escaped to LA before settling, despite the dire warning of her Brit musician mates, for the life of a round peg in a square hole in what she bafflingly refers to as "Lunnin". Since arriving here ("I was drawn to this place by some feeling I can't explain"), Tori has "found a new perspective" and a fresh energy for songwriting. Whereas LA was "like one big mushroom trip", England appeals to her taste for the bizarre and 'Lunnin' has certainly taken to Tori's individual brand of crazed performance.melodrama in a big way. Her debut Anglo-single, 'Me & A Gun', was a refreshingly direct, albeit morbidly comic, account of a real-life sexual assault.

Tori, rather unsurprisingly, does not care to discuss at length, restricting her comments to: "After keeping it locked away for six years, writing about it was freeing... For a long time I was scared of everything. Most of all that I would never be able to take care of myself. Now I've learnt to love myself and I don't need anyone to tell me I'm OK. I can tell me I'm OK."

The imminent debut album 'Little Earthquakes' has excited much speculation in the pop world. Tori Amos might be a little too offbeat to glide effortlessly into the mainstrem, but she still looks like the only serious New Face/Contender for '92 in that area of the pop arena the currently fumbling Sinead used to dominate.

The Amos-style is three-parts painful, almost embarrassing honesty, to one-part fluid, moodily sensual melody. On vinyl she comes across as a kind of visionary-cum-worrywart for the '90s, the effect rescued from a trite, 'caring' vibe by that ever-present feeling the listener gets that Amos should never be left uunattended in a room that hasn't got nice foam-covered walls.

And if this energising impression of creativity dangling recklessly over the precipice of chaos is muted on vinyl, its onstage manifestation is guaranteed to scare the nappy off you. My own personal exposure to Tori Amos (live) left me in two minds. Should I call my editor before or after I inform the police? Wailing like a car-alarm from hell, Tori intimidated and frankly terrified the audience. At one point, Tori was a big panther, fangs itching to bite your virgin-boy balls off. At another she was a fairy princess, all doe-eyed submission and loveliness until a piano break mid-song caused her wig to stand on end.

"I love live performance," giggles Tori unapologetically, when I tentatively point out that she is to a calm, easy-listening night out what Myra Hindley was to baby-sitting. "As far as I'm concerned, people either own their stage or they don't. Lizaa Minnelli owns her stage, Barbra Streisand owns her stage. Judy Garland was a great entertainer, as was Freddie Mercury... Other performers seem to go onstage and it's like they're asking if it's OK to breathe. They seem to wait to receive permission to let their love affair with the audience begin when they should have given themselves that permission before they even got to the stage."

HAVING SPENT 90 minutes with Tori Amos, I can vouch for her instability, lunacy and mental decrepitude. She dismisses money as "unimportant, it could just as well be carrots", almost breaks down in tears after confessing that she's having problems 'relating' to her niece -- "We used to be best buddies, now she just cuts me dead..." (her niece is six) -- and waffles incoherently about teachers and guides, exclaiming at one point, "Do you realise that I used to be a big, hairy viking," seemingly careless of the heart condition of the old tramp seated immediately to our right.

However, one thing is for sure. I -- and all you others out there sick of soggy knickered Violet Elizabeths hogging the Girl At The Mic limelight with their limp excuses for chick-pop -- should be pleased she's crawled out of the LA woodwork to be with us. British music could do with a kick up the backside, even if it is administered by a dainty size four attached to a woman who reckons the world would be a better place if record company advances were replaced with vegetables.

As the girl herself puts it: "I've got enough money to fly to LA and have a good Mexican meal... and that's plenty." Happy eating indeed.


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