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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (US)
July 15, 1998

Tori Amos' tour, latest album display singer's new sound

by Rob Elder of the Journal Sentinel staff

One spotlight. A woman and her piano.

Singer-songwriter Tori Amos' formula of simple, honest songs soaked in mythological metaphors has earned her a huge, almost religiously loyal fan base.

But with her new album, "From the Choirgirl Hotel," Amos is playing with a full band for the first time.

Amos opens her new tour, "Plugged 98," at the Milwaukee Auditorium tonight. Her new sound and stage performance are a step away from her soloist roots, and she's hoping her fans will make the move with her.

"People can expect a lot of confusion at the first show," Amos said in a phone interview last week. "Hopefully, they'll be able to buckle their seat belts and not get traffic tickets."

In conversation, Amos is polite and measurably reflective. Long pauses linger in the spaces between question and answer, and she often restarts her opening sentence.

It is perhaps this wandering, sometimes eccentric, approach to press interviews that has caused some critics to paint her as an "insipid Tinker Bell character," or, more cruelly, "a 24-karat fruit loop."

Despite how the press casts her, Amos is a well-respected, piano-playing goddess. Rolling Stone writer Steven Daly recently called her "the Anne Rice of Rock Music," although she doesn't agree with that description either.

"It was the writer's sound bite, and that was his right. The similarities are that she goes after the dark side of people and I explore getting along with the dark side. There's so much richness in the dark side."

"From the Choirgirl Hotel," her fourth solo album, exploits that dark side, mixing themes of sexuality, faith, loss and sacrifice into what is musically her most innovative record to date. Although the compositions are still piano-based, they lean on pulsing, polyrhythmic electronica and fully band arrangements.

"Choirgirl" is also perhaps her most personal and introspective album.

The first single, "Spark," explores the trauma of a recent miscarraige, while the harrowing "Jackie's Strength" asks for courage during her wedding day. (Amos married her long-time engineer Mark Hawley in February.)

The daughter of a Methodist minister, Amos is on a mission to expose Christianity's underbelly. She believes that women too often are made scapegoats and treated like spiritual second-class citizens of the church.

"Mary Magdalene is really someone who has made the church very uncomfortable," Amos said. "That is why you have two Marys in the Bible: onethat is very sexual, and one that is virtuous and spiritual, cut off from her sexuality.

"In doing so, they take away all her wisdom. So instead of people having to align with one or the other, the Marys need to become married -- joined together."

Sex and religion are not strange bedfellows for Amos.

"I'm always trying to bring the two together -- sexuality and spirituality -- to hold them in the room together at the same time," Amos said.

Amos always has been obsessed with the mythical and metaphysical. Her songbook is populated with Oz-like characters, where she hangs out "with the Dream King" and "Judy Garland takes Buddha by the hand."

"When I'm writing, a lot of these characters show up. People you know and run into are a portion of those characters," Amos said.

Tori Amos performs at 7:30 tonight at the Auditorium. Tickets are $25.50.

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