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The New Review of Records (US)
December/January 1994


by Brad Balfour

"The energy suckers... the girls inside the bathroom dogging each other, that are breaking each other down."

Tori gets provoked with a passion. This isn't a woman with a middling view of life. On her debut solo LP, Little Earthquakes, she tackled all sorts of issues, such as religion and rape and the many little abuses we are assaulted with each day. And she reacts with a vengeance. She makes music that quakes and gets people coming to her, the boyfriend looking for advice about their girlfriends and the girlfriends about their boys. This is not about her being a performer nor, for her, a matter of being in the music industry. "I'm not a part of this business. I was playing music before people were peeing in their beds. I've been doing this for 27 years, 12 hours a day, and that hasn't changed."

Right now she's mad about psychic violence between women. And it shows on her latest record, Under the Pink, to be released any day now. It's not so much in the music (though it's got quite an edge in both the sound and her intensely drawn delivery) nor even in the lyrics (which are more terse and direct than ever) but in the overall feel of it.

That feel, I get from Tori, is cause something's really gnawing at her. "There is a triangle on this record: the songs "Bells for Her, Cornflake Girl, and The Waitress -- a triad about women betraying women, that's a kind of theme here. We women have to deal with the patriarchy first, but then, whats's the alternative? Do you need a woman to look after you? I'm here to apply for the job. But when you say patriarchy, you don't have to be a man to be part of the patriarchy.

"After I read Possessing the Secret of Joy by Alice Walker, about how mothers sold their daughters to the butchers; that kind of floored me. One always feels safer when there are good guys and bad ones. But there are no good guys out there. And it's not as if one sex can make it okay.

"Now with Cornflake Girl, the idea was that I always had this sisterhood and it was just blown to bits. I was betrayed by someone, a girlfriend, who gave me a pretty shitty deal. Her opinion was - I'm a shit - it depends on whose table it is that you're having arsenic at. I think the disappointment of being betrayed by a woman is way heavier than being betrayed by a man. We expect it from you guys. It hurts, but I'm not shocked."

With the music of Under the Pink, what has changed is Tori's ability to attack issues on her mind. It's a sure affair full of rich, precise stuff some songs, such as "Bells for Her" are stark and spare, with only the tinkling toy piano for atmosphere while she sings in that sometimes delicate almost mystically intoxicated tone of hers. Others are full-on such as God with its angular guitar scratching and hard rhythm track.

Just as the music is even more confidently expressed, so is her stance. "I'm getting better at not having to make friends with everyone, it's okay if we don't agree, it's okay if you walk out of here and don't understand or I don't get you." Tori realizes that she can't please everybody. "I'm not going to do anything now that doesn't feel good. When before I would just go numb and think, 'What are they going to think of me if I don't do this or that?' I now have a better handle on it and I'm not a sweetie pie; I'm more awake. There are compromises in life, but not if you have to become something you aren't."

What has also changed her skill at making a rich panorama, a process she does without being dramatic about it. Take the song The Waitress about a real waitress which carefully oscillates between a dry grim voice and a piano and moments of attacking guitar and pounding drums. "I was mad. I wanted to throw her up against the wall. She did something - one day I'll tell you - that made me want to kill her. My reaction was a bit extreme. I was ranting and raving. I've had this feeling about being a peacemaker why can't we sit down and talk about it: and here I am throwing this bitch against the wall, having no problem with annihilating her cell by cell. But the issue, I know, was in my head and she was calling it up in me."

Though Tori doesn't exactly tell the literal story of it-she's not wont to do things like that-she graphs the psychological turf; it's about friends and of Tori being betrayed. In the incident lies a truth about herself, and when she tranlates through music, it's for the rest of us as well. "I drive myself nuts the way I get a very specific eye on something."

That eye is carefully directed here. Witness the track "Pretty Good Year." In it she uses a reference to this guy named Greg to suggest a pathetic state of mind she rises above. "I care about Greg, you know I do," Tori explains. "But there's no pity in the song. If I pitied him then that's really condescending. I got this letter from this guy Greg and he thought his life was over. And he drew this picture with drooping flowers and glasses and hair to here; he was from the north of England. And he was a very good writer; I've found so many guys 23 years old that thought their life was already over."

This woman exudes a passion that stirs thoughts of her physical course as well, which currently is kept in check by her present boyfriend, producer Eric Rosse. "I'm only monogamous in bed; I'm sharing my thoughts with everyone. I have a very deep imagination: I don't have to do it with somebody to be emotionally involved. It's beyond the penis and vagina. How many dicks do you have to suck before you realize that you have to draw the line somewhere when you're sharing molecules with someone?"

If she's telling me this, she's not doing so with calculation. Not Tori. This is a bared soul; she even wants to get God a girlfriend. "God's problem is he needs a babe; hey, I'm not busy Tuesdays and Thursdays." She explains that the song Icicle is about a woman who "masturbates to survive a repressive atmosphere."

Tori understands characters like that. She reminds me that she's a minister's daughter, and that even now that she's so in love, she's not going to marry. "I don't need a church to sanction anything I do." Throwing aside convention in favor of some truth is what drives Tori forward. "It's all about resolve," she tells me. She's at the point where she can take the heat and move ahead. She's Tori of the dangling carrot. "I dangle carrots to get the meat for my next carnivore experience."

[scan by Sakre Heinze]

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