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Music Review: Tori Amos – A Piano: The Collection

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I don’t believe there is a girl between the ages of 25-35 who didn’t fall madly in love with Tori Amos’ first album, Little Earthquakes. It was a perfect album for a perfect time. In the midst of grunge with all its loud guitars and thundering bass came this sprite woman plinking a piano. Forging a path through what stood for females in rock music – Paula Abdul and Madonna with their glimmer and shake – came a fiery red headed creature singing about God and sex in a voice that spoke – really spoke for her generation.

With songs like “Me and a Gun,” an a capella, heart wrenching retelling of Amos’ own rape, she ushered in a new era of songwriting. One that was introspective, brutally honest, and completely feminine. She doesn’t try to be the masculine version of a female that so many other artists have succumbed to, she is purely herself, and we related – by the millions.

By those same numbers, most of the people I know who fell in love with that first album, have since fallen away from the Cult of Tori through subsequent albums. Refusing to rest on her own laurels Tori’s follow up albums got heavier instrumentation and less immediately revealing lyrics. Adding in guitars, drums, synth beats, and more her songs have become denser, layered things, which often obscures the straightforward intensity that made her famous.

Never-the-less she has continually stretched her legs as an artist, releasing albums with divergent styles and accessibility. Doing so she may have lost some of her original fan base, but she has grown an intensified, cult-like following.

A Piano: The Collection is a five disk boxed set that covers all of her albums from Little Earthquakes through The Beekeeper. Various alternate versions of songs, demos, and B-Sides are included.

It comes in a lovely looking box that is shaped like a piano, with plastic keys and everything. In fact, when the Fed Ex man brought it, I wondered why anyone would send me a synthesizer. Tori has made extensive notes on the collection detailing her experiences with each record and some of the songs.

For someone who lost track of Tori after Under the Pink this is an excellent way to catch up with the ever experimenting singer. I’ve got to say though, that after Little Earthquakes, while she always maintains an emotional intensity in her songs, I’ve not been able to latch onto anything I’d like to keep.

Much of the problem lies in that I have trouble hearing exactly what she talking about, or bobbing my head along to the tune. I know that’s a rather juvenile approach to music criticism, but as a listener I need something to maintain my attention. On songs like “Silent All These Years” the lyrics were easily understood and filled with an emotional intensity, while with “Happy Phantom” the lyrics might be a little opaque, it was a jaunty little ditty and great fun to sing along with. While there is a certain poetry in “Suede” I can’t actually understand the words, and the music is so thick I can’t help but find it dull.

It is true that I’m not really Tori’s audience. I’m a middle aged male whose musical tendency run towards the hippies and the hillbillies, not sophisticated, alternative feminists. My wife has been enjoying the boxed set, and I’m sure many others will too. It has enough alternate material to please the hard-core fans and covers her studio thoroughly enough to give a good scope of her recorded output thus far

As for me though, I think I’ll grab some Ralph Stanley from the record shelf and take a nap with a good book.

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About Mat Brewster