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The Boston Globe (US)
Friday, January 19, 1996
under the volcano
The singer's new album takes her from a big blowup and back
By Steve Morse
Singer Tori Amos plays no games. When many musicians might describe their new albums with a knack for self-promotion, Amos can't do that. Her albums are not about marketing, but about an inner spiritual search that is changing and shifting all the time. It's a search that has scared off many radio programmers seeking easy pabulum, but has won a loyal -- and growing -- audience that treats her every song like entries in a personal diary.
Amos, a minister's daughter with a confessional mind and piano chops skillful at improvising, is back with a new disc, "Boys for Pele," due out Tuesday. (She plays "Saturday Night Live" tomorrow.) It will again startle, touch -- and perhaps shock -- many listeners. It's about recovering from a failed relationship and finding the strength to go on.
"It's about truth," she says. "I just went in to sing my truth."
Amos, from Washington, D.C., emerged four years ago by singing about being raped -- an issue she's kept in the public eye by founding the Rape, Abus & Incest National Network. This time she sings about breaking up with her boyfriend of seven years, Eric Rosse, who produced most of her first two albums, "Little Earthquakes" and "Under the Pink." Each album and 2 million copies, showing the power of her unique confessional style, which lies somewhere between Sinead O'Connor, Edith Piaf and Joni Mitchell.
Amos broke up with Rosse at the end of her last tour ("I felt like a corpse," she says), leading to stages of rejection, anger and ultimate catharsis gained from a rejuvinating trip to Hawaii; the "Pele" in the album title is an island volcano goddess.
"In Hawaii, I was sent to this medicine woman," says Amos, who now lives in London but will tour the United States in April. "She said to me, 'This is not about them [past boyfriends]. This is about you and your needs and why you think you needed things from them.' And so we started following that current.
"But no, I didn't have my concept hat on in Hawaii," Amos adds during a recent interview. "I was just finding my way out of the jungle. You know, the left foot goes here, the right foot goes there, and you can't see 5 feet in front of you. That's where I was in this world of entanglement."
Save your sympathy, though, because Amos doesn't want to hear it.
"Nope, [the breakup] was great from where I sit now. It was a gift because it forced me to be by myself for a while and go find these energies," she says. "The truth is, I needed to wean myself off of boy blood. I needed my own blood, to smell it, to taste it, to recognize it."
The results of this sojourn lef to "Boys for Pele," which again weaves classically influenced piano melodies with breathy, uninhibited vocals that are absolutely riveting if you're an Amos fan. The album moves from scarifying tracks like "Blood Roses" (in which she sarcastically sings, "I shaved every place where you've been") and "Professional Widow," to the crossroads of "Caught a Lite Sneeze" (with the line "I need a big loan from the girl zone"). Then, finally, to a more compassionate stance in "Not the Red Baron," where she sings about helping men reach their own levels of stability.
Needless to say, it will be unlike any album you'll hear this year. Amos is an acquired taste, but her often painful self-examination -- and search for universal truth -- are revelatory.
The turning point was the song "Not the Red Baron," which was sparked by romantic difficulties that she saw her road crew experiencing.
"That's the moment when I began to have compassion for boys again," she says. "There was no joy anymore when I saw guys in my crew crashing and burning over their love for a girl who was just urinating all over them. And I went, 'Oh, I've just been on the other side of this.'
"Whatever the realization, in that moment it was compassion that made me want to wipe the hair off their brow and give them a Guiness. That was always a popular move!
"My crew teaches me a lot," she adds. "They recorded this album live with me. And though I would be having battles on different fronts, the road crew would let me into this world of boys, where it was safe and I could see it from their side of things."
The songs feature Amos' famed Bosendorfer piano, but also an increased use of harpsichord. Amos has seemingly borrowed the mellifluous harpsichord sound of the early Rolling Stones song "Lady Jane." It adds a sublime new touch to the Amos oeuvre.
The sonics are also magnificent because the music was recorded in an acoustically pristine church in County Wicklow, Ireland. Some songs contain blunt language that may furrow the brows of some churchgoers, but Amos has no qualms about recording in a religious sanctuary.
"They know I'm a minister's daughter," she says, "though I don't know what some other people's response -- people who are religious -- will be. I'm sure it will be varied and mixed. But if they do believe in honor and they do believe in truth -- and they say they do -- then I went to the church and spoke mine.
"I walked in there with clarity and walked in there with as much knowledge as I have at this point of religious mythology all across the board. And I didn't go in with anger. I went with the intention of wholeness and of bringing a fragmented woman back to freedom."
[transcribed by jason/yessaid]
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the World of Tori Amos