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The Record (US)
Northern New Jersey
Sunday, September 1, 1996
A Fervor Over Tori, One Way or Another
by Andy Smith, Special from The Providence Journal-Bulletin
People tend to have a powerful reaction to singer Tori Amos. Either they like her a whole lot, or they dislike her with equal fervor.
Amos' more devoted fans make dolls in her image, cover themselves with Tori tattoos, or run sites on the World Wide Web with titles like The Holy Church of Tori.
"I try not to analyze it too much," Amos said in a phone interview. "It's sort of not my business.
"I just write what I'm thinking about. If you start to analyze it, you'd change what you do ... I'm aware that I tackle belief systems in my work, and sometimes I evoke a strong reaction in people."
Amos' latest album, "Boys for Pele," is a 70-minute journey through religion, sex, anger, heartbreak, and violence, with just an occasional touch of humor.
(Amos begins "In the Springtime of His Voodoo" by quoting an Eagles song: "Standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona," but then goes on to say, "And I'm quite sure I'm in the wrong song.")
Pele, incidentally, does not refer to the Brazilian soccer great, but to a Hawaiian volcano goddess who required human sacrifice.
The lyrics on "Boys" don't always make sense ("Furry mussels marching on/She thinks she's Kaiser Wilhelm"), which might bother some critics, but not Amos.
"A lot of 'Alice in Wonderland' doesn't make sense, either," Amos said. "What is the Red Queen supposed to mean? ... A lot of it is metaphor.
"This record goes to the depths of a relationship. The whole record is about that descent. If you've ever called a phone that's not ringing, then you understand."
Even the pictures on the album sleeve are oddly disturbing - showing pianos engulfed in flames and Amos apparently nursing a small pig.
Amos, born Myra Ellen Amos, was a child prodigy who was playing the piano by the time she was 3. At 6, she studied classical music at the Peabody Institute, part of Johns Hopkins University.
Amos rebelled against the Institute's strict classical curriculum, and left at 11. As a teenager, she played clubs in the Washington, D.C., area, and moved to Los Angeles at 21 to make it big as a rock star. But her 1988 album, "Y Kant Tori Read" was a bomb.
Amos regrouped, returned to her first instrument, the piano, and in 1991 she released "Little Earthquakes," the album that started her on the road to cult stardom.
Amos, who took up the harpsichord when she made "Boys," is releasing a new five-song EP, with a newly recorded version of "Hey Jupiter" and four live tracks: "Professional Widow" from "Boys," two new songs, and an interpretation of the Judy Garland favorite "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
In her shows, Amos said, she often sings "Rainbow" right after "Me and A Gun," a song inspired by her experience with sexual assault.
"They made a lot of promises in that song, and they never happened, that whole pot of gold at the end of the rainbow," Amos said. "What about all the people who don't win the lottery or never have any health problems? Sometimes you experience violence, and terrible things happen...
"I believe in rainbows and all of that. But there are darker colors - the rainbow contains every color. And it's the shade that defines the light."
As for "Professional Widow," it's been widely assumed to be a reference to Courtney Love, Kurt Cobain's widow, thanks to its veiled references to heroin and suicide.
"It's about my own experience," Amos said. "I've never met Courtney Love. It's based on that part of myself that's Lady Macbeth, and if you have any Lady Macbeth in yourself, whether you're Andy or Tori, that song can be about you."
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