Tori Amos,
Under the Pink
(Atlantic, 1994)

When Tori Amos first burst upon the scene, Seattle was storming the world and battling with boy bands over airwave ownership. Lilith Fair was still nothing but a dream for Sarah McLachlan. So when a woman and a piano came along to sing with soft violence about the untouchable subjects of women's lives, a cult developed that's grown with every passing year.

For anyone new to Tori, Under the Pink is the best place to start. The album showcases all her bests: challenging, poetic lyrics, haunting vocals and piano accompaniment that startles with its savant-like beauty and chameleon-like ability to change.

The album opens with "Pretty Good Year," a song where -- like the other slow tracks, "Baker Baker," "Bells for Her," and "Cloud on My Tongue" -- Tori's vocals and piano accompaniment stand alone. She is at her strongest here; her voice shimmies while her piano cries and storms through lyrics for lost women -- stories of transition, abuse and loss that resonate with outsiders and anyone on a cusp in their life.

Just when you've settled in for a ennuic ride, she switches tempos and themes with a variety of strange or taboo topics. "God" is a fast-paced and biting rant on the inconsistencies of the Almighty. Then there's the strangely compelling "Cornflake Girl" -- the lyrics are hard to interpret, but she manages such a bouncy beat with her piano that you just don't care. Restaurant workers will love "The Waitress," a violent little ditty about workplace competition. "Icicle" is a deceptive piece that opens with the plaintive tone of her slower songs, then rocks into a celebration of the glories of masturbation. On most of these tracks, other instruments appear -- from simple guitar to a full symphony. But, as with her slower songs, her vocals and virtuosic piano are the real foundation.

By the end of Under the Pink you've crisscrossed a gamut of emotional pitfalls and melodic moods, and you're the better for it. In this pop music climate of superficial lyrics and synthesized sounds, Tori's naked emotions and authentic style rinse across the listener like a mountain stream after the first snow melt: brutal at times, but carrying away a lot of silt and rocks to expose the tender places beneath. Thankfully, Tori Amos is still going strong. We need her now more than ever.

- Rambles
written by Tracie Vida
published 5 June 2004

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