Tori Amos Under the Pink

[Atlantic; 1994]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: singer/songwriter, confessional piano ballads
Others: Kate Bush, Regina Spektor, PJ Harvey

Something possessed me to dig out this CD, one I'd apparently outgrown, and reassess it. Perhaps it's because I was listening to King Crimson and Yes in tandem with Jawbox's "Cornflake Girl" and it just hit me: Under the Pink often works like progressive rock. Like Tanya Donelly, Amos is extremely gifted with obscure (and admittedly more than a little hokey) lyrics trotting nimbly about some thrillingly intuitive shifts in tempo, tone and melodic structure. Tori's most striking example of a ferocious prog rock moment would have to be the lengthy standout: "Yes, Anastasia". This song makes me completely unhesitant praising an artist that no doubt is the butt of many a music lover's joke. I'd snicker myself, but I know all of the lyrics to Under the Pink, and don't feel the least bit embarrassed singing along. And I'm a young man of 25 that can't stand almost all of the adult-contempo pap she's associated with.

But I'm not going to say she's cool. All in all, Tori is something of a flake.  I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel like I just got done watching Judging Amy when I put her on. There's a semi-lame indie sleeper called Walking and Talking with Catherine Keener and Anne Heche. In it, the actresses are driving in a car and listening to some Indigo Girls type of thing while a guy sits in the back. He pipes up and asks if they can listen to something besides "vagina music". They of course bark at him to shut up so they can continue their girly reverie. This idea made me laugh, but in light of a recent article calling the nightmare howl of Wolf Eyes ‘testosterone fueled', I couldn't help but feel perturbed by the assigning of music to gender. Are men inherently more destructive than women? The most famous female serial killer, Aileen Wournos, hardly seems like a serial killer at all; just a nutty, unlucky streetwalker. Is it conception that makes us associate femininity with lullabyes and masculinity with war cries? History speaks volumes to this effect, but the lines are blurring, and this-I'm pretty sure-is a good thing.

With Under the Pink (but not so much with the feminist soundtrack, Little Earthquakes) it seems Tori Amos was trying to blur the lines. I remember being startled upon discovering, through an interview, the humongous cock-rock of Led Zeppelin had been a heavy influence on her. But if you watch the way she performs, wildly flipping her hair and hanging her butt precariously off her bench, it starts to make sense. She's a rock star, steeped in feminine concerns, but aiming to obliterate feminine expectations. On "Past the Mission", Trent Reznor (quite possibly Amos's lyrical counterpart) contributes backing vocals, subtlely reaffirming that Amos did not want to be commodified for a Lifetime promo. More glaring is her embracement of all kinds of nuance. Along with tackling quite menace to surging malice on the humorous "The Waitress," she turns it down for the spellbinding "Bells for Her", another fine Under the Pink standout. It's songs like these that make me want to chuck the whole male/female approach to analyzing her music. This is just good songwriting, pure and simple.

Like Joni Mitchell or Kim Deal, Amos has managed to veer away from the dubious "female singer/songwriter" category that only points out the most rudimentary facts of who an artist is and what they do. It suggests a generic feel more suited to someone like Aimee Mann or Jewel. Something so basic and predictable it simply doesn't need to exist. As much as you can fault some of Tori's trademarks (overly keening vocal delivery, tritely unconventional lyrics) there's a lot to love about Under the Pink. I don't expect people who genuinely dislike Amos' music to change their minds. I only suggest to people who've written her off as so much "vagina music," to take another spin with Under the Pink (which, I digress, is a somewhat menstrual album title). It's a rich album with the kind of prowess and consistency that blows PJ Harvey's disappointingly uneven recent release, Uh Huh Her, completely out of the water.

1. Pretty Good Year
2. God
3. Bells for Her
4. Past the Mission
5. Baker Baker
6. The Wrong Band
7. The Waitress
8. Cornflake Girl
9. Icicle
10. Cloud On My Tonuge
11. Space Dog
12. Yes, Anastasia

Most Read