A candid, original voice, causing mighty tremors with tender tiptoes.
Chris Roberts 2012-08-30
Cathartic, confessional and wilfully contrary, Tori Amos’ debut set the template for 90s female singer-songwriters; a look in the mirror before leaps like Lilith Fair.
Now if there are two things that tend to land a reviewer in trouble, they are lumping female singer-songwriters together and ‘lazily’ comparing a leading light of the genre to Kate Bush. Yet there can be little argument that Amos influenced scores of followers and that this, in 1992, sounded very much like a candid, original voice who happened to love Bush’s first two, piano-and-voice-based albums.
For all the tinselly keyboards that could have been Rick Wakeman on a 1970s session, Amos’ use of imagery and flayed soul-baring meant that Little Earthquakes was a ubiquitous bed-sit favourite. Blokes either took it seriously or never got to talk to a woman again.
And it took itself seriously. Classically-trained Amos, now a major international star, was then playing tiny clubs. She was brought to London from Maryland by a major label who’d been patient with the sessions but figured the Brits would be kinder to her eccentricity. Poetic, often anguished songs about religion, sex and identity were rendered strangely accessible by her rippling melodies and steel-dressed-as-sugar voice. Silent All These Years and Winter became unlikely hit singles, with Amos performing with quiet subversion on mainstream TV shows. Her cult grew and grew.
Crucify, Precious Things, Leather and Mother all touch on various aspects of her preoccupations: the big, Freudian themes. It was Me and a Gun which raised the most eyebrows, her voice alone narrating her own trauma as a rape victim. It sometimes sounds like she’s striving to blank out the ordeal by leavening it; at other times it’s unbearably frank. It drew praise and opprobrium in equal measure, yet confirmed that this was a genuine artist with loftier aims than transient popularity.
Musically one hears also early Cat Stevens, Laura Nyro, and Joni Mitchell’s lyricism of course. Yet Amos had arrived on her own commendably idiosyncratic terms. The album’s title resonated: she was causing mighty tremors with tender tiptoes.