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The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
November 13, 2009

Sins and sensibility

A bitter brew of the spiritual and sexual still colours the work of Tori Amos, writes Dan Kaufman.

Tori Amos is obsessed with a three-letter word: sin.

In 2005 she came to Australia with The Original Sinsuality Tour, her new tour is called Sinful Attraction and her 2009 album, which comes with erotic photos of Amos (including one of her posing provocatively in bondage gear), is titled Abnormally Attracted to Sin -- a line that was inspired by the 1955 Guys and Dolls musical.

"As soon as I heard [the actress] Jean Simmons say that I put the movie on pause and never went back to it, just because my mind as a minister's daughter went into a completely different place," Amos says.

When asked what kind of place that is, however, Amos becomes shirty. "Well, you have the record," she says shortly. "That kind of place."

The record creates a dark and troubled terrain filled with power struggles, sadomasochistic imagery and -- of course -- plenty of sin.

"I'm attracted to the idea of what sin is and how it's been defined for hundreds of years because, frankly, the patriarchal fathers have the power to define us and how women view their bodies, and the fact they have this power is the greatest sin, an abuse of their power," Amos says.

"So, as a minister's daughter, I've been fascinated with how church authorities have been able to influence and control and divide the masses within themselves."

Even though many people know of Amos thanks to her earlier, more radio-friendly songs such as Cornflake Girl and Crucify, the topics behind her songs have always been dark and complex, such as Me and a Gun, which was inspired by Amos's experience of sexual abuse (she later co-founded the RAINN [Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network] helpline).

"Journalists used to ask me years ago, 'Why don't you want to write happy pop songs?' and I felt like saying to them, 'Why don't you want to be funny?'" Amos says.

"Meaning you have to accept what your strengths are and what kind of writer you are. I do think some people excel at making happy little catchy tunes and then there are writers that are strong when they're going after multi-levelled subjects and subjects that are hard to talk about -- and that's kind of where I'm most comfortable, in talking about the uncomfortable."

Even as a child Amos wasn't shy about going against the grain. She was expelled from the Peabody Conservatory of Music at 11 (she received a scholarship at five) because she wanted to play her own rock and roll compositions; in the early '90s she hit the charts with piano-based ballads at a time when grunge was at its height and in her last tour she took great delight in combining her piano prowess while provocatively shaking her booty.

Whereas American Doll Posse was influenced by her unhappiness with George Bush, Amos says her new songs are "very much about what women are going through right now".

For example, the song Ophelia tells the tale of a woman repeatedly choosing to be in abusive relationships, Maybe California is about a mother contemplating jumping off a cliff and Strong Black Vine talks about religious intolerance.

"A good musician is a reflector of the times, monitoring the emotions of the masses," Amos says. "Events determine what songs show up and that I'm able to be a scribe for.

"These songs are very much from the perspective of a woman who's observing people losing their homes and their lives and kids being told they can't go to college -- if you travel now across the States, there are people saying 'I don't know what my life is going to be because I was planning on going to university and that's gone, because my parents have lost everything,' and they're working a job to try and save the money to go to a community college and you begin to realise the magnitude of what this crisis has caused,'' she says.

"So friends and families are being torn apart, there's great upheaval and there's always opportunity in upheaval.

''People are trying to find what their strengths are, what their gold is -- not monetarily but what their spiritual gold is -- and the record talks about different emotions."


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