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The Guardian (UK)
The Guide (entertainment insert)
January 25, 1992


Robert Yates listens to a newly-arrived US singer-songwriter who wears her heart on her record sleeve. And she has an anti-Christ in her kitchen.

Tori Amos, American singer-songwriter, is coming on like Emily Dickinson and sounding like Cosmopolitan. She treats the song, she says, as a confessional: "exposing myself is the only way I can get free."

On her debut album, Little Earthquakes, liberation comes through raking over past, mostly adolescent, traumas. For this she favours a dramatic lexicon, in which she both crucifies herself daily (as in Crucify, on the new album) and has to deal with the "anti-Christ in the kitchen" (Silent All These Years).

You can be forgiven for baulking, but in conversation Amos tells her tale with such gay abandon. And, under her healthy mop of red hair, looks far removed from the emotionally withered - confession really must be good for the soul.

Her story is that as a five-year old musical prodigy she won a scholarship to the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. There, having to perform Opus 12 on request drove her ill. She recovered to continue her playing, of now more jazzier numbers in Washington nightclubs, where she was watched over in a fruity piece of apple-pie Americana - by her methodist preacher father.

Now she's 28, has put much of the story into the album and is living in Britain because the record company counted on our history of falling for women singers with a lyrical bent. A pretty sound judgment, it turned out. Amos has been made very welcome, particularly by critics who have most commonly invoked the names of Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush in comparison.

Amos, for her part, has taken to the Britishers, and is especially fond of the country's older women because "they have a twinkle in their eye." She is planning a concert for a group of women pensioners in Newcastle.

The Joni Mitchell comparison is not too apt (it always appears whenever women sing an autobiographical song) but her delivery does resemble Bush in its ability to carry a mood's tiny fluctuations. Amos helpfully explains: "I get zapped by energies that are around and inside me, and they take me." Whatever its provenance, the technique is impressive.

The voice doesn't get much chance however to prove how it handles joy and one could wish for more of a relief from the soul-searching. One exception is Happy Phantom which, in the surroundings, fairly skips along, while there is some much-needed whimsy in Tear In Your Hand's "I don't believe your'e leaving cause me and Charles Manson like the same ice-cream."

Any mood could surface onstage (at London's Shaw theatre this week) for she claims that her performance personae range from the little girl lost to the wicked witch. If the audience reaction suggests too great an expectation she might run scared, she says, and "become seven again at the Institute, tearing offstage with pee running down my leg."

Push her through and she threatens to snap. As a warning to difficult audiences, she cites a support slot in Munich "they booed me even before I'd hit a note. Right mother-fuckers, I said, I'm going to get you. And bite your heads off in one."

Tori Amos is at the Shaw Theatre, Euston Rd (071-388-1394) Wed & Thur. A full tour is scheduled for February.

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