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Salt Lake Tribune (US)
Friday, May 29, 1998

With a new sound, Amos appears poised for solid-gold stardom.

By J.D. Considine of the Baltimore Sun

It's definitely an eye-catching cover.

There's Tori Amos on the front of the British music magazine Q. She's wearing just a half-smile, and a coat of gold paint. A few tendrils of flame-red hair spill across her face. Her green eyes sparkle.

Arresting as the image may be, it's nothing compared to the quote accompanying it. "How can I be a sacred being and a hot (mama)?" Tori is saying. Except that she's using a considerably earthier word than "mama."

It was a cover line that got everybody's attention -- including Tori's.

"Oh, god," she says, when asked about the cover. At the moment, she's in the sitting room of a suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Chicago, looking nothing like the vixen who stares out from the cover of Q. Instead of gold paint, she's dressed demurely in a jacket and jeans, a sequined "disco scarf" protecting her throat.

When she saw the magazine cover, she said, "My first concern was my mother-in-law." (On Feb. 22, Ms. Amos married sound engineer Mark Hawley.)

"I had only been married three weeks when that hit the stands," says Ms. Amos, 33. "I called my husband, and I said, 'Oh my god, keep your mother away from the news agents.'

"He said, 'What do you mean? She's got it. She walked in there and got it, and loves it!'" Months later, Ms. Amos' relief remains palpable.

Still, you'd think she'd be used to the vicissitudes of the music press by now. She is a big star -- her last three albums have all gone platinum -- and about to get bigger.

It's hard to say whether this increase in audience is because her current, drum-and-synth-driven sound is more commercial than the quiet intensity of her previous alternahits like her solo-piano rendition of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," or simply because Ms. Amos is riding the same wave as female pianists Sarah McLachlan, Fiona Apple and Paula Cole. Nonetheless, her new album, From the Choirgirl Hotel entered the charts at No. 5, selling 153,000 copies in its first week.

That's a third more than her last album, Boys for Pele, sold in its first week. A single, "Spark," is on the Modern Rock charts (No. 24 this week). She is touring this summer and fall, including a concert at the Crown on Tuesday.

By rights, her 1996 release, Boys for Pele, should have catapulted her to the coliseum level. But the songs on Boys were dark and difficult, with Ms. Amos more intent on reconciling her inner conflicts than conquering the charts.

That helped lay the foundation for From the Choirgirl Hotel, but the even that truly put From the Choirgirl Hotel in motion was Ms. Amos' miscarriage in December 1996.

It's not an easy thing for her to describe; even her gift for metaphor fails her as she tries to put a name to the situation of carrying a life without delivering it.

"I couldn't chase after something that wasn't going to manifest itself in the physical," she says. "I didn't become a mother, although I owned life, I couldn't go back to being that person (I was) before.

"And yet... I knew that there was some primitive agony of women losing their children that I had to dive through. And believe it or not, Pandora took me by the hand and came first."

"Pandora" in this case isn't the box-opening character from Greek mythology, but "Pandora's Aquarium," the last song on From the Choirgirl Hotel but the first on the album to have been written. Ms. Amos describes the son as her point of entry for the new album. "It took me by the hand, drug me under, and all of a sudden, we were off," she said.

As the songs revealed themselves, Ms. Amos began to realize that her old, piano-only approach wasn't going to be enough.

"It was just so obvious," she says. "As 'Cruel' was being written, and as 'Hotel' was being written, and 'Liquid Diamonds' was being written, I knew. The piano was really saying to me, 'Hey, I have a role to play here. But you need (drums). This is written for a whole other element.'"

So now Ms. Amos has a band, and she seems happier than ever onstage. It isn't just that her group -- guitarist Steve Caton, bassist Jon Evans and drummer Matt Chamberlain -- suits her music to a T; there's also an amazing vibe onstage when they play, as if the four are connecting with her songs on the most elemental level.

"You can't explain chemistry," Ms. Amos says. "It's not right or wrong, it's just there."


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