-written by Jeremy Gloff
Here’s an overview of my opinion/experience with each Tori Amos album. Please add to this and/or share your own experiences and opinions in the comments on Facebook.
LITTLE EARTHQUAKES (1992):
Obviously a masterpiece. The first time I ever saw Tori her “Silent All These Years” video was playing on MTV. I was (and am) a big Wilson Phillips fan and I couldn’t believe how good Wendy’s new solo song was! At the end of the video I saw it wasn’t Wendy at all but someone I never heard of called Tori Amos.
At the time a lot of really annoying people loved Tori Amos, and of course because of that I didn’t like her music. In fact it wasn’t until VENUS AND BACK came out that I became a fan. I was so scared by awful people playing LITTLE EARTHQUAKES to death that I didn’t revisit it until the late 2000s and naturally it was then I fell in love.
Listening recently it’s still shocking how raw, honest, and bare these songs are. There’s a DVD out of Tori performing at Montreux first in 1991 then in 1992. The change in her performance and stature within that one year is so interesting to watch. That first year Tori looked so vulnerable, genuine, and clearly very emotional. The second concert seemed much more of a “performance” with Tori doing many of her classic onstage antics and oddities.
When I hear LITTLE EARTHQUAKES I see and feel the Tori who was filmed in that original 1991 concert. Emoting. Raw. Real. Unaffected. Gale force power.
UNDER THE PINK (1994):
I think I’m one of the only people in the world who doesn’t love this album. I love “Pretty Good Year” and “God” and that’s about it. I remember thinking the background vocals on “God” had a very Wendy & Lisa vibe for some reason. “Bells For Her is pretty and “Cornflake Girl” was less annoying to me as the years went by. By the time this album out Annoying-Tori-Fandom was in full flair but unlike LITTLE EARTHQUAKES this album never revealed itself to be amazing. Yes, I know the waitress believes in peace, bitch, and that someone is pissing in the river. I also know Trent Reznor sings on “Past The Mission” but I don’t really care. As controversial as it would be to say this, I far prefer later albums like ABNORMALLY ATTRACTED TO SIN over this one.
BOYS FOR PELE (1996):
When you aren’t a Tori fan this album is the absolute worst. It’s Tori turned up to ten. Shit, maybe it’s Tori turned up to a million. When it came out I found every word and sound grating.
Then I took a car ride in 2000 with my roommate Jenny Kangas down to Sarasota Florida. We listened to the album in her car and I read along with the words. Not sure if it was the Florida highway or where I was in my life but all of a sudden every word made sense. From that moment on BOYS FOR PELE revealed itself to be a one-of-a-kind statement and a map to emotions unlike any other.
No tracks on this album are dispensable. From the rage of “Blood Roses” and “Professional Widow” to the beauty of “Marianne” and “Hey Jupiter” this album is just as much a masterpiece as the first one. “Caught A Lite Sneeze” was the single but nearly every song is a “hit” in my world.
This is the album where Tori really really was Tori. And we were all the better for it. I can’t think of an artistic statement quite like this one anywhere before or since.
FROM THE CHOIRGIRL HOTEL (1998):
This album came out around the same time as Ani DiFranco’s “Little Plastic Castle” and i remember just disliking both at the time. While EARTHQUAKES and PELE made huge sense to me in later like, like UNDER THE PINK I just never really checked into the CHOIRGIRL HOTEL. The songs I love I love a lot: “Spark”, “Jackie’s Strength”, and “Raspberry Swirl”. Time has not made me love the girl whose making him shave his legs, or the one who goes eiiiieeeiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeee. Clearly an experimental album from Tori I realize its importance in her catalog and artistic growth, I just don’t care much for the songs themselves.
TO VENUS AND BACK (1999):
I was at my decktop in the living room. The video for “Bliss” was rotating on MTV. The first time I saw it I dismissed it. The second time I saw it I went from hating Tori Amos to becoming a life-long fan. Something changed in that moment. Something about the simplicity of the video, the song, and the album cover of VENUS really sunk its claws in me. Since that moment I’ve been a Tori boy.
I never really dug the live album here but disc one of VENUS was the first Tori album I bought and at the time I listened to it millions of times. Even upon release it felt like a bit of a toss-off but I did and still do love every song on the album. Tori took the electronic experimentation of CHOIRGIRL and fully explored it on this album. The music rolls along with the same shadowy -purple hue found on the album cover. There’s a murderer in “Juarez”, a Kim Carnes reference in “Glory Of The 80s” and hell if “Josephine” isn’t one of the most beautiful things Tori has ever done.
Nearly twenty years later this album never aged into a masterpiece – but if anything it’s a very successful experiment. It was the album that made me love Tori and I still love it today.
STRANGE LITTLE GIRLS (2001):
A lot of people don’t like this album. I love it. A lot. This was the first “new” album to be released once I was a Tori fan. Back then it was exciting because Tori always added something new for every album. PELE added the harpsichord, CHOIRGIRL flirted with electronics, VENUS really went electronic, and STRANGE LITTLE GIRLS introduced the Wurlitzer.
Although Tori didn’t write these songs (they were all written by men) this is one of the rare times when a cover album didn’t feel like a cover album to me. The sound of the album within the Tori universe was so singular and unique it felt like an original piece of work. Tori truly embodied the songs and owned them. Certainly it was the Eminem cover that raised the most eyebrows…and who the hell can even hear the original within the Slayer and Neil Young covers? That didn’t make Tori’s versions any less enjoyable. Additionally her versions of “Strange Little Girl” and “Rattlesnakes” rivaled the originals in their emotional depth and delivery.
On this album Tori discovered the Wurlitzer (and Fender Rhodes) as musical companions and she turned the songs of men into their own. As the years went by Tori’s album “concepts” became more and more overwrought but this time it really worked. The multiple album covers and different characters were easily digestible and heightened the experience of the album. I consider STRANGE LITTLE GIRLS to be a mini-masterpiece of its own.
SCARLET’S WALK (2003):
I considered STRANGE LITTLE GIRLS to be a major artistic success…and Tori only furthered this with her next album SCARLET’S WALK.
The album is another concept album, this time detailing a trip around America. A map is included showing where each song took place. Like the last album, the concept made perfect sense. It was intriguing and enjoyable to wrap the plastic off of SCARLET’S WALK and jump into the journey. The polaroids of Tori that dotted the artwork were simple and gorgeous. With the artwork alone there was something hauntingly American about this record.
And the music itself revealed a new maturity and old-worldliness. The songs themselves were shaded with 70s singer-songwriter production flourishes. Within the walls of these songs were the same building blocks that constructed the classic songs of Carly Simon and Fleetwood Mac to name a few. The narrative was Tori’s alone however.
“A Sorta Fairytale” might be my favorite Tori Amos song of all time. “Strange” and “Carbon” certainly contain the ghosts of lonely long highways. “Your Cloud” is pure gorgeousness. This is an album that has aged very well…with each track withstanding the test of time, and if anything feeling more relevant and haunted today. When the album first came out I always stopped listening about 3/4 of the way through. A few years ago I finally sunk my teeth into the last quarter of the disc and it was such a pleasant hidden treasure to discover. I just wasn’t ready for “Virginia”, “Scarlet’s Walk” and “Gold Dust” at the time of release. Today though, those songs land with massive impact.
SCARLET’S WALK is every bit the masterpiece that PELE and EARTHQUAKES are. I may go as far as saying that if I had to take one Tori album with me to a desert island…it would be this one. A haunted walk, for sure.
THE BEEKEEPER (2005):
This album was preceded by the book “Tori Amos: Piece By Piece”. Within that book there were “song sketches” discussing some of the tracks from the upcoming BEEKEEPER album. The titles, the content, and the subject matter of the upcoming songs seemed to be intriguing. What a bummer when the album was released and for the first time ever I felt “eh” about a Tori album.
The arrangements seemed very sterile and middle-of-the-road. The lead-up to the album seemed to point the Hammond Organ as the “new edition” to the Tori sound this time around. But whereas Tori wreaked havoc on the harpsichord a few albums back, upon first listen the Hammond on THE BEEKEEPER seemed very…white girl in a black church.
Even the concept of the album this time around (featuring the songs in different “gardens”) was over-reaching and confusing. Not to mention that due to the loss of B-sides in a changing market, Tori stuffed the album with a whopping 19 tracks. An over-loaded track-list works when you are sifting through the ashes of PELE…but this time around it seemed like much too long of a taxi ride.
Years later, however, I was experiencing some challenging life events and I revisited THE BEEKEEPER. I was so moved and inspired by this album I ended up writing a 10,000 word essay about it. (You can read that essay here).
What at first seemed too adult-contemporary and smooth for some reason now felt safe, comfortable, and calm. During a tumultuous time of life I found a safe harbor in these songs. Somehow I grew to love nearly all 19 songs and the album became a favorite of mine right up there with the others.
To this day I remain an advocate of THE BEEKEEPER. You just have to be in the right space to understand it and feel it. Many of Tori’s past albums were useful in bringing release and explosion. If these albums were objects then LITTLE EARTHQUAKES would have been a confessional and BOYS FOR PELE would have been a bomb. Once I realized that THE BEEKEEPER was a jar of aloe it all made sense.
To this day I consider “Jamaica Inn”, “The Power Of Orange Knickers”, and “Martha’s Foolish Ginger” to be among Tori’s most magical songs. And “Goodbye Pisces” might be my favorite Tori song of all time.
It took me a long time to understand the hive…but this bee is definitely a keeper.
AMERICAN DOLL POSSE (2007):
After the seemingly too-vanilla BEEKEEPER it was a thrill when Tori debut two songs from her upcoming album AMERICAN DOLL POSSE. “Big Wheel” swayed along with a sharp-biting southern rock swagger. “Bouncing Off Clouds” was atmospheric, emotional, and catchy pop-rock at its Tori best. It seemed if any mojo was lost during the last album it was definitely rediscovered this time around. Even the album cover looked darker and more intriguing.
Upon first listen AMERICAN DOLL POSSE seemed full of inspiration and surprises. “Teenage Hustling” and “You Can Bring Your Dog” strutted along with a Hedwig-ish glam rock feel. “Girl Disappearing” and “Secret Spell” were emotive and pretty. Sadly with repeated listens not many of the grooves really stuck past the first two singles.
While every Tori album has its fillers it’s easy to love a “Mr. Zebra” when it’s close enough to a “Professional Widow”. On AMERICAN DOLL POSSE it’s hard to look past “Programmable Soda” and “Posse Bonus” when the songs that surround them are longer but not much better. To this day I can’t decide if “Fat Slut” is so bad its great…or just so bad its terrible.
The concept of the different “dolls” singing the different songs was borderline brilliant but it would have been more effective if the characters’ songs each truly did have distinctive sounds. As it stands while each song is assigned to a character…without the booklet none of the “dolls” really form their own sonic identity.
At the end of the day AMERICAN DOLL POSSE at first seems more inspired than the previous album…but it falls short of its promise both conceptually and musically. Even if Tori is an M.I.L.F. and we won’t forget it.
ABNORMALLY ATTRACTED TO SIN (2009):
This is the album where it felt like the lifers separated from the die-hards. All of the things that plagued latter-day Tori albums were in full effect: bloated track list, strange concept, glamor-shot photoshop cover artwork, and middling songs.
I remember buying this record and not being blown away by any of it. Where Tori in the past was always either really bad, really good, or really really good, this time around she just seemed okay. The album didn’t turn me off as bad as BEEKEEPER did the first time, nor did it grab me like VENUS AND BACK did. This album was just kinda there. I played it a lot at the time because it was new Tori…but I remember feeling at the time that this would be an album that wouldn’t be remembered much after its album cycle.
Surprisingly I find myself revisiting ABNORMALLY ATTRACTED TO SIN more often than a lot of Tori’s other albums. The night I learned Tori was releasing a new album I made out with a really beautiful boy in the middle of the street on a cold winter night. For that alone, this album has a special place in my heart.
Beyond my romantic memories of yore…this album contains a late late night amber kind of darkness unique to only this album. “Flavor”, “Curtain Call”, “Dark Horse”, “Starling”, and the title track seem to mine a certain sadness and despair that was more adult and subtle that past albums.
Sure, the album had its stinkers. Despite its weighty subject matter “Maybe California” is too syrupy for me. And time hasn’t done any favors for songs like “Police Me”, “Not Dying Today” and “Strong Black Vine”.
But when I’m driving late at night – not necessarily sad or depressed – but feeling the weight of aging and the truth of living – the better songs on ABNORMALLY ATTRACTED TO SIN fit the bill and the mood. In life…sometimes you have to bring your own sun.
MIDWINTER GRACES (2009):
An album I tried to love…and I couldn’t even find anything I liked. I know a lot of people were excited about a return to simpler piano arrangements…I’ve tried and just can’t get into it.
NIGHT OF HUNTERS (2011):
I know a lot of fans freak over this album. I tried many times…there’s just nothing I like on it.
GOLD DUST (2012):
Orchestral versions of previously recorded tracks. Listened once and lost interest. Didn’t grab me at all.
UNREPENTANT GERALDINES (2015):
Just when I had given up on Tori she surprised me with this album. Pre-release press activity found Tori out and about without a wig on and talking about how she had found a new way to write songs. I got a very fresh and exciting vibe leading up to UNREPENTANT GERALDINES.
The first song to appear was “Trouble’s Lament” and upon first listen I loved this more than any Tori first single since “Big Wheels”. It seemed as if Tori was once again just being Tori. And it couldn’t have come at a better time.
The album itself did not disappoint. Here was a Tori Amos who was older, wiser, and once again writing songs I could actually sink my teeth into. There was a grand openness and spaciousness about these compositions and they became the perfect soundtrack for sunny afternoon Florida drives.
“16 Shades Of Blue” and “Promise” both covered new emotional and sonic landscapes where songs like “America”, “Wild Way” and “Weatherman” were just as beautiful as anything Tori had ever released.
Like all Tori album there were a couple clunkers. The production on the title track seems a little thin and “Maids of Elfen-Mere” and “Giant’s Rolling Pin” are slightly cloying. This time around though, like on the best Tori albums, the surrounding material is so strong and grand you resist skipping over any tracks and just experiencing the entire ride.
On UNREPENTANT GERALDINES Tori Amos was over 50 years old but truly reborn.
NATIVE INVADER (2017):
The latest Tori album and once again I’ve tried to get into it but can’t. Many fans say it’s her best since “Scarlet” but after the honesty and openness of GERALDINES this album feels dense and impenetrable. Maybe this will be a BEEKEEPER that will reveal itself to me a later date…or maybe it’s a NIGHT OF HUNTERS and we will just never have a date.
Can’t wait to see what Tori does next…