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Times of London (UK)
Friday, January 21, 1994
Confessions of a cereal killer
By Paul Sexton
Only Tori Amos could write a song about women being cornflakes, and have a hit with it.
The Top Ten of this week's singles chart has an intruder aboard. In
there among exhortations to "shake it up, baby" and "come baby come, baby
baby come come" by the likes of Chaka Demus and K7 stands a catchy little
number about betrayal among women, based on a book by Alice Walker and
featuring a piano solo heavily influenced by jazzmeister Keith Jarrett. Not
exactly the stuff of Top Of The Pops.
The vertiginous debut at number seven of "Cornflake Girl" by Tori Amos
is but the latest triumph in a career that has been at warp drive since she
debuted two years ago with Little Earthquakes, a startlingly original work
of cerebral songsmanship that captured British ears before it bent anyone
else's and went on to sell a million worldwide. Amos, the North Carolina
native turned adopted Londoner, looked to have exceeded all reasonable
expectations when no fewer than three of the delicate and artful pieces
from that first album, "Winter", "Crucify" and "Silent All These Years",
found room for themselves in the Top 30. The even greater success of
"Cornflake Girl" tees up the release at the end of the month of Under The
Rarely can the hit parade have housed such deep and dark sentiments.
"I'm thrilled that people are opening up to that song," she says of
"Cornflake Girl," which was inspired by Walker's novel Possessing The
Secret Of Joy.
It is built on the premise that women fall into one of two categories,
the cornflake girl or the raisin girl. "I've set up two factions that are
at war with each other," Amos says. "Of course I would like to think I'm a
raisin girl, because in my mind they're more open-minded. Cornflake girls
are totally self-centred, don't care about anything or anybody."
Such complex imagery is typical from an artist whose unabashed
individuality means she is often suspected of knitting with only one
needle. Whether the average 12-year-old singles buyer will fully grasp the
lyrical ramifications matters not to Amos, who is happy for her songs to be
customised by each individual who hears them. "What they hear is: 'This is
not really happening earthquake in LA or you just got fired from your job,
it's the shock of an experience. Some people get things on every level,
some people never will. I do respect the listener's point of view, because
they come up with things I'd never thought of before.
"When I listen to, say, the Beatles' 'A Day In The Life', I don't know
what people got out of that, but it affected me on a deep, deep level. It
changed my life. There's a lot in that song, but a lot of people maybe only
heard one phrase. At the end of the day, though, I don't know if it
matters, because, consciously or sub-consciously, you're getting it."
Under The Pink also confronts such laugh-a-minute themes as organised
religion, in "God" ("Will you even tell her if you decide to make the sky
fall") and violence, in "The Waitress" ("I believe in peace believe in
peace"), and their often tense, coiled energy might lead one to imagine an
artist wearing an ingrained frown.
Instead, Amos is gregarious, unpretentious, friendly to a fault and
clearly loved by all about her. If songwriting were therapy, it could be
said to have worked wonders for the child prodigy with the classical piano
training and Methodist preacher father. But therapy is not the word she
"Driving a four-wheel-drive is therapeutic for me. I wouldn't say making
a record is. I kind of feel I'm an archaeologist when I'm making a record,
I'm digging to discover things. I can't write something if I don't crawl in
and sit behind your eyes and feel that." The album, co-produced with her
boyfriend Eric Rosse, was recorded in a 150-year-old hacienda in New
Mexico, yet another relocation for an artist who moved from North Carolina
to Los Angeles and then to London when her American record company said
that perhaps its UK counterpart would understand Little Earthquakes better
than it did.
Of the months spent recording the new album, Amos says: "I wanted to be
in another world. I didn't want to be in the city, didn't want to be around
other people's ideas and comments. Who needs them? I've trained myself to
be very present, even during a nine-month process, when you can easily lose
focus. I'm very disciplined in that way. Disciplined is not what other
musicians would necessarily call me, they might call me obsessed and
relentless and really out of control."
Sure enough, the fresh environment conjured up fresh ideas. "The feeling
for this record was: 'How can I go more internal and yet bring a few
different paints with me?' There was a part of me, from the lyric side,
that wanted to have a few different ideas happening at the same time. For
instance, when 'Past The Mission' started to come, it was just my feeling
of being around all the missions and what they represented to me, because
in New Mexico there are so many missions and that's where so many of the
native people were corralled and their beliefs broken. What I started to
feel was an understanding of how my own belief system was controlled by the
Such relentless self-examination is part of the Amos character, but
without any trace of an analyst's couch. This week may be the only occasion
when she appears in the same list as "Twist And Shout", but she is rather
enjoying the company. "It's a neat feeling," she says. "Everybody told me
this 'girl on the piano' thing was never going to work."
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