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Her Indoors: Tori's lesson in marital harmony
By James McNair
To Venus and Back
double CD comprising all-new studio record plus live album recorded during 1998's 'Plugged' world tour
MARRIAGE. It fucks you up. Lust dies and you start wearing pyjamas. Conventional wisdom also holds that, for musicians, matrimony can spell creative death. After tying the knot w/her sound-engineer Mark Hawley, seems Tori Amos just shook off the confetti and kept writing. Still more likely to suckle a piglet than do the vacuuming, she's apparently emerged from the nupitals, with all her gifts and kinks intact.
While BFP utilised brass and FTCH featured the London Sinfonia, TVAB is a more Spartan affair. Intricate vocal melodies and Tori's piano hold court, and in the absence of other lead instruments much of the drama comes from vocals miked close enough to violate privacy laws. If this sounds like a partial-reversion to Tori's modus operandi circa Little Earthquakes, think again. Amos rarely re-traces her steps, and her fifth album reflects an ongoing commitment to innovation.
For the most part, textures predominate. Several drum-loops are willfully distressed, and Steve Caton's guitars are rarely more than bit-players in the sonic wash. Guest backing-vocals on Lust seem to be courtesy of Darth Vader, and on the big, emotive ballad 1000 Oceans, the final "home" that concludes the lyric is part shudder, part sigh. Elsewhere, the meandering, Joni-like melody of Glory of the 80s might betray Tori's lineage, but by using assonance, dramatically varying timbre, and twisting pronunciation of certain words to suit her own needs, she's further refining a unique voice. This is something which those ubiquitous comparison to Ms Bush tend to overlook.
Lyrically, Amos still has her pet threes; sex, sex and sex, to name three. "Get out of my garden," she warns at the start of Datura, before listing such flora as the "golden shower tree" and the "clitoria blue pea". Even the ostensibly about a time in LA when "people were more honest and less PC-obsessed" -finds Tori asking, "Who do I gotta shag to get outta here?"
On these songs, Amos is playing with sex and sexuality, but there are others where she indulges her own need to "chase the dark". Juarez, for example, is about the murder of a young Mexican woman in the desert, and marries sex with its old sparring partner, death. Further in, Lust explores issues of trust within a sexual relationship with unflinching honestly.
In a recent interview with The Times, Amos intimated that dealing with the psychological ramifications of her well-documented past was a long and intricate process, rather like threading a necklace one bead at a time.
This is fine, complex record finds her a little calmer, but no less challenging or controversial. She's threaded a few more beads, several of them gems.
James McNair talks to Tori Amos.
James: Certain lines in Bliss suggest that you've been reassessing who you are in the light of who your parents are. Have you?
Tori: "I guess my parents are in there, but to me it's not just about the biological father, but also the authority figure, whoever it is that I put in that position. Bliss is really about control, and about certain things in our DNA that you can't use a strainer to get rid of. You can't separate completely from whoever made you, because they're a part of you."
James: You've always seemed acutely aware of the pressure that's sometimes put on a woman to be both Madonna and whore.
Tori: "I've spent a long time trying to marry the two Marys; the Magdalene with the Mother Mary. In the myth, Magdalene is severed from her spirituality and wisdom, but she has her sexuality and her sensuality. Mother Mary has her spirituality, but not her sexuality, even though we know that whether or not she had Jesus, she did have other children through intercourse. When I was younger I didn't understand that you could have lust in a marriage. I didn't see how you could combine the sacred with the sexual. For me, trust is a huge issue, and if I trust I can walk into areas that might be dangerous."
James: Concertina and Glory of the '80s read well as blank verse. How do you approach lyrics nowadays?
Tori: "Usually I have a blood-line going for a song, so there are certain marriages of words that happen. Sometimes I try and become the words, so I'll take on the properties and characteristics of a squeeze-boy say. Am I still a woman as a squeeze-box? Obviously. With something like Suede, which is about seduction, I picture jets revving and I was walking round the studio with a physics encyclopedia. The guy character in the song thinks the girl character is really evil, yet he's there to be seduced. Sometimes people act quick to see my evil twin, but they don't detect their own."
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