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Famous Amos

Check out the sound and audio clips on the Tori Amos homepage.

    But this 18-song record is also an uncomfortably ambiguous one, overly intimate, yet strangely unrevealing. Although Amos is clearly a talented singer, clarity is not her strong point. As on her previous albums--Little Earthquakes and Under the Pink--Amos is concerned with some pretty grim subjects, and Boys for Pele does use some fairly biting, bitter imagery. She says, for instance, that she has an angry snatch and tells a former lover she's "shaved every place you've been" and that she's "got her rape hat on."

    But Amos' anger is of the least threatening sort, artistically. She is the type whose fury can be dismissed by said lover--and most of the listening public--as the rantings of an irrational witchypoo.

    To her credit, Amos is a true eccentric, not a fake one. In her last video, she was featured covered in live rats, and there is a weirdly evocative photo of her in the center of the CD booklet that shows her bare-chested, suckling a piglet.

    Despite her propensity for shocking imagery, however, Amos is in some ways a highly conventional artist. At her best--on "Horses," "Mr. Zebra" and "Mohammed My Friend," she sounds very much like Kate Bush, only--alas!--minus Bush's fabulous pop sensibility.

    Amos may be deliberately shunning hit singledom in favor of cultivating a more avant-garde audience. Even seen in that light, her new record fails. Although her music ostensibly deals with some harsh subject matter, it is much too vague to effect any real emotional value.

    There are certainly a few very pretty and very strong images here, just as there are some lovely snippets of melody and resonant, evocative singing and playing. But though the album runs a full 70 minutes, nothing is sustained for longer than a phrase or so. The song structures never seem to coalesce, becoming gelatinous on close inspection.

    Moreover, by couching her rants in Christmas-carol-style music, Amos undercuts much of the passion, turning it into a quavering mass of arpeggios with little substance. Like many women, Amos has a tendency to pull her punches, either by hiding her feelings in obscure prose (what, for instance, does "got a peanut-butter hand but honey do drop in at the Dew Drop Inn," mean?) or, more effectively, by pure denial.

    The song "Professional Widow," for example, seems like an obvious comment on the antics of Courtney Love, with easy-to-spot references to Love's life like "don't blow your brains out," "starfucker, just like my daddy" and "China white." Yet in a recent issue of NME, Amos, who came to prominence by covering Love's late husband's, Kurt Cobain's, hit song "Smells Like Teen Spirit"--flat out denies the connection.

    One can only wonder why Amos doesn't just cop to it. Perhaps it's for the same reason that she isn't able to write a straightforward statement or lyric. To be really effective, music and literature and art must refer to a universal feeling or condition.

    But Boys for Pele is an entirely personal album, containing lyrics that are much too internal and obscure to be meaningful to anyone who isn't actually Tori Amos. If you're not--and, of course, you're not --then you may as well skip it in favor of something a little bit more intelligible--like maybe Gravity's Rainbow, written in Greek.

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From the Feb. 15-21, 1996 issue of Metro

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