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The New Review of Records (US)
WHAT REALLY GETS TO YOU?
by Brad Balfour
"The energy suckers... the girls inside the bathroom dogging each other, that are breaking each other down."
Tori gets provoked with a passion. This isn't a woman with a middling view
of life. On her debut solo LP, Little Earthquakes, she tackled all sorts of
issues, such as religion and rape and the many little abuses we are assaulted
with each day. And she reacts with a vengeance. She makes music that quakes and
gets people coming to her, the boyfriend looking for advice about their
girlfriends and the girlfriends about their boys. This is not about her being a
performer nor, for her, a matter of being in the music industry.
"I'm not a part of this business. I was playing music
before people were peeing in their beds. I've been doing this for 27 years, 12
hours a day, and that hasn't changed."
Right now she's mad about psychic violence between women. And it shows on
her latest record, Under the Pink, to be released any day now. It's not so much
in the music (though it's got quite an edge in both the sound and her intensely
drawn delivery) nor even in the lyrics (which are more terse and direct than
ever) but in the overall feel of it.
That feel, I get from Tori, is cause something's really gnawing at her.
"There is a triangle on this record: the songs "Bells for
Her, Cornflake Girl, and The Waitress -- a triad about women betraying women,
that's a kind of theme here. We women have to deal with the patriarchy first,
but then, whats's the alternative? Do you need a woman to look after you? I'm
here to apply for the job. But when you say patriarchy, you don't have to be a
man to be part of the patriarchy.
"After I read Possessing the Secret of Joy
by Alice Walker, about how mothers sold their daughters to the butchers; that
kind of floored me. One always feels safer when there are good guys and bad
ones. But there are no good guys out there. And it's not as if one sex can make
"Now with Cornflake Girl, the idea was that I
always had this sisterhood and it was just blown to bits. I was betrayed by
someone, a girlfriend, who gave me a pretty shitty deal. Her opinion was - I'm
a shit - it depends on whose table it is that you're having arsenic at. I think
the disappointment of being betrayed by a woman is way heavier than being
betrayed by a man. We expect it from you guys. It hurts, but I'm not shocked."
With the music of Under the Pink, what has changed is Tori's ability to
attack issues on her mind. It's a sure affair full of rich, precise stuff some
songs, such as "Bells for Her" are stark and spare, with only the tinkling toy
piano for atmosphere while she sings in that sometimes delicate almost
mystically intoxicated tone of hers. Others are full-on such as God with its
angular guitar scratching and hard rhythm track.
Just as the music is even more confidently expressed, so is her stance.
"I'm getting better at not having to make friends with
everyone, it's okay if we don't agree, it's okay if you walk out of here and
don't understand or I don't get you." Tori realizes that she can't
please everybody. "I'm not going to do anything now
that doesn't feel good. When before I would just go numb and think, 'What are
they going to think of me if I don't do this or that?' I now have a better
handle on it and I'm not a sweetie pie; I'm more awake. There are compromises
in life, but not if you have to become something you aren't."
What has also changed her skill at making a rich panorama, a process she
does without being dramatic about it. Take the song The Waitress about a real
waitress which carefully oscillates between a dry grim voice and a piano and
moments of attacking guitar and pounding drums. "I
was mad. I wanted to throw her up against the wall. She did something - one day
I'll tell you - that made me want to kill her. My reaction was a bit extreme. I
was ranting and raving. I've had this feeling about being a peacemaker why can't
we sit down and talk about it: and here I am throwing this bitch against the
wall, having no problem with annihilating her cell by cell. But the issue, I
know, was in my head and she was calling it up in me."
Though Tori doesn't exactly tell the literal story of it-she's not wont to
do things like that-she graphs the psychological turf; it's about friends and
of Tori being betrayed. In the incident lies a truth about herself, and when
she tranlates through music, it's for the rest of us as well.
"I drive myself nuts the way I get a very specific eye on
That eye is carefully directed here. Witness the track "Pretty Good Year."
In it she uses a reference to this guy named Greg to suggest a pathetic state
of mind she rises above. "I care about Greg, you
know I do," Tori explains. "But there's no
pity in the song. If I pitied him then that's really condescending. I got this
letter from this guy Greg and he thought his life was over. And he drew this
picture with drooping flowers and glasses and hair to here; he was from the
north of England. And he was a very good writer; I've found so many guys 23
years old that thought their life was already over."
This woman exudes a passion that stirs thoughts of her physical course as
well, which currently is kept in check by her present boyfriend, producer Eric
Rosse. "I'm only monogamous in bed; I'm sharing my
thoughts with everyone. I have a very deep imagination: I don't have to do it with
somebody to be emotionally involved. It's beyond the penis and vagina. How many
dicks do you have to suck before you realize that you have to draw the line
somewhere when you're sharing molecules with someone?"
If she's telling me this, she's not doing so with calculation. Not Tori.
This is a bared soul; she even wants to get God a girlfriend.
"God's problem is he needs a babe; hey, I'm not busy
Tuesdays and Thursdays." She explains that the song Icicle is about a
woman who "masturbates to survive a repressive
Tori understands characters like that. She reminds me that she's a minister's
daughter, and that even now that she's so in love, she's not going to marry.
"I don't need a church to sanction anything I do." Throwing
aside convention in favor of some truth is what drives Tori forward.
"It's all about resolve," she tells me. She's at
the point where she can take the heat and move ahead. She's Tori of the dangling
carrot. "I dangle carrots to get the meat for my
next carnivore experience."
[scan by Sakre Heinze]
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the World of Tori Amos