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Tori Amos: Tales of A Librarian
ori Amos needs saving. The problem here is that I’m not quite sure from who or what. She doesn’t need saving from herself, though; too much critical time and effort has been spent trying to pigeonhole the woman into this role as the insane, destroyed woman, as if the overpowering force of manliness and masculine power was enough to make it so that any rape victim would not be able to operate with a single degree of normality about them ever again. For, make no mistake about it, 90% of music hack outpourings on Mrs Amos are blatant, hideous, violent misogyny. For instance, feast your eyes upon Mike Ross’ (infamous amongst Amos’ fanatics) 1996 Edmonton Sun review of Boys for Pele, wherein he claimed the album “must be some personal vendetta against the male species that only Amos can explain”. Or, if you want something more recent, how about this piece of loveliness from… well, let the man go anonymous, but let’s just say that her writes for the “other” lot: “i hear tori amos is covering 'enjoy the silence' on her new album and fucking with the lyrics. fuck tori amos for trying to ruin the greatest song of all time. everyone, join me, FUCK TORI AMOS! it's fun”. Seriously, you have to wonder strongly about the mentality of a man (and, let’s be honest here, this women-hating idiocy is prevalent amongst a whole hoard of music writers from all kinds of genres, this outtake here is just a particularly odious example) who makes gags about a woman being raped, and incites further rape upon her, just because she covered some 80s tune that she likes.
But, anyway, we all know that this is because music journalism is just a massive dick-size comparing contest, and that’s a discussion for a different article at a different time. Even so, you can claim that it’s not just the critics, but possibly her fans that Amos needs saving from. Amos has a massive web presence, she was amongst the top 5 in webpages dedicated to one musician at one point. Even now, locales like The Dent and Atforumz house reams and reams of “Toriphiles” that discuss the woman’s work with an obsessive fervour more commonly associated with Lord of the Rings. But… well, it’d be nice if a few other acts nowadays could inspire such devotion, no? I very much doubt that you’re going to find webpages discussing Basement Jaxx’s haircare technique at such lengths, or contemplating what Cex had for his Thanksgiving meal.
So, now we’ve got our two camps defined: women-hating music writers who seem to hold Amos up as a straw effigy of all they hate about the X-chromosome and her phalanx of fans, who’d likely claw your eyes out if you said a bad thing about her. Thus, you’d take a greatest hits album to be the best idea possible: a chance to prove to the haters that the woman put out two of the best albums of the 90s, and a chance to reward the fans with a spot on summation of what has inspired them to devote so much time and attention to the woman over the past 11 years.
Firstly, she decided to remaster and remix the songs on this album. OK, fair enough, Little Earthquakes especially suffers from an overly early 90s production feel that can’t be due for a retro comeback any time soon, so fiddling with the knobs a bit can only be a sensible idea.
So they release Tales of A Librarian. The packaging is gorge. Botoxed-up Tori rocks some bizarre kinda Miss Havisham goes air hostess goes rowrrrr look on the cover, whilst the inlay plays up fully to the librarian title as well: tracks are arranged in accordance with the Dewey Decimal system so, for instance, “Playboy Mommy” goes under “610: Medicine and Health; 618: Miscarriage”. All gravy so far.
Oh, and it’s also the shittiest greatest hits compilation of all time.
Amos has been calling it a “collection”. A collection of what, precisely? Forgotten album tracks that take space away from bona-fide written-in-stone classics? Appallingly remixed versions of old tunes that remove what made them so special in the first place? Feeble new tracks to remind us how far you’ve fallen off in recent years?
First off… what in pissing Christ is the “Armand’s Star Trunk Funkin’ Mix” of “Professional Widow” doing on here? A) it’s appalling. B) it disrupts the flow of the album entirely, being as it is an eight minute dance track on a piano led female vocal album. C) it just reeks of “Look, this was The Hit, put it on the damn album” memos from Atlantic. It’s also preceded on the album by “Way Down”, a song that so tenuously incorporates a gospel choir you’d think they wandered into the wrong studio by accident. It sounds like Paul Simon.
Bad remixing and remastering? Ignoring the sole good piece of new engineering on the album (moving the “Me and A Gun” vocals into the centre of the mix, making her “Do you know Carolina?” howl even more of a spine-chiller than it was originally), the majority of technical wizardry just screws up the songs beyond redemption and recognition, being full of a modern day Amos production trait, that being an attempt to make her music more anodyne, more palatable for a mass audience (which has served only to alienate her older fans and attract no new ones). “Bliss” and “Spark” have in particular been desecrated, the former by its idiotic new introduction, the later by its pointless echoey vocals.
So, an opportunity wasted. But how would you have set up a greatest hits album featuring minimal new material Dom? Glad you asked. Like so. AND WITH NO FUCKING AROUND WITH THE WAY SONGS SOUND.
This is such an obvious opener for an album for Tales of a Librarian to throw it away 12 tracks in makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. The first song on her first album (no, Y Kant Tori Read doesn’t count), and as good an Idiot’s Guide to Tori Amos as you’ll ever get. Trembling vocals, a piano stomping all other instruments into the ground, and lyrics dealing with the girl’s favourite topic: religion. Also contains her finest lyric: “I've been looking for a savior in these dirty streets/looking for a savior beneath these dirty sheets/I've been raising up my hands/Drive another nail in/Got enough guilt to start my own religion”
2. Blood Roses
This track sounds like Lizzie Bennett self-mutilating. Amos’ best “Ahhhh”s kick the song off, before she starts bouncing off the walls in a ballroom. Ignore the lyrics (that’s a pretty sound idea for 50% of Amos’ songs, that). Look, you could compare her to Kate Bush for the rest of your life, but it’s like comparing AC Milan 1994 to Brazil 1990. Yes, they’re both good football teams, and, yes, the first team probably took a lot of idea from the latter. But the first was more concerned with a strong defence and didn’t so much engage in a concept of total football as the second one, plus the Baresi/Maldini defensive partnership… yeah, anyway. She sings “I think you’re a queer” on this track, which is always a useful phrase to know if you meet any of the cast of Lord of the Rings on the street.
From The Choirgirl Hotel is my preferred Amos opus, anyway. It was the first of her albums I listened to, and it’s a rare positive example of that uniquely 90s phenomenon, “experimenting with dance beats”. Amos’ vocal gymnastics are like Oral Korbutt here, her “cock cock cock cock your mane” sounds like a steak knife across word. Amos did drop the ball when she started to actually “sing”, it’s why we hate singer-songwriters, no?
4. Glory of the 80s
To Venus and Back is the most interesting of her output, mainly for what doesn’t work as much as what does. It’s a double album, one CD being decent live versions of her older work, and the second being… it isn’t called a bonus disk, but it might as well be, feeling as it does rushed, and with one or two really really bad song choices (“Riot Poof” was written solely that Amos’ many gay fans would have a decent message board alias to use). However, there are a few peaches in abundance, most notably this track, with Amos running through a party on a sugar rush. It’d have made a great video, darkly lit seedy nightclub, drag kings, bugle boys, Kim Carnes, and Amos bouncing from one fucked up personage to the next. Also note her usage of the word “shag” a full three years before Mike Myer’s Anglophilia moment.
“She’s addicted to nicotine patches”. Checking out of the choirgirl hotel with her most confident song, within these four minutes there’s no confusion or worry in her playing or singing. She came into this album straight off of the back of the “Professional Widow” gravy train, so her cashflow was fully assured for the near future, and as such there’s a definite feel of her not chasing any trends. It’s as big of a song as was recorded in the late 90s, and the manner in which the guitars are muted on the TOAL version is the biggest musical crime of 2003. You heard. Fuck Spector.
Actually, no, scrap what I said above, because “We scream in cathedrals/ Why can’t they be beautiful?” is my favourite Amos lyric. Similarly, “With your E’s/ And your ease” is my most confusing Amos lyric. Admittedly, fun can be had treating Amos’ lyrics as cryptic crossword clues, spotting if it’s about Courtney or Trent or Quinn. I have no clue what this one is about, but when she erupts into distorted-funk half way through and bellows “You’re so sure you can save every hair on my chest”… why on earth do people listen to Peaches again?
7. She’s Your Cocaine
“Is it true that devil’s end up like you/ Something safe for the picture frame?” In those lyrics, Amos accurately predicted how her production would go to chase adult-contemporary playlisting in her later years. This one is about Trent, though. I hate how Tori and Courtney were held up as two diametrically opposed representations of women in 90s rock music: “You can either be a ballbuster or a lunatic. And we’ll hate you either way”. Fuck music writers.
My all-time favourite picture of Tori (she’s been one of the most photogenic performers in recent years) is on the inlay of To Venus and Back. She’s wearing a slinky black dress with a feather boa and she’s standing in what appears to be a warehouse toilet. She’s adjusting the back strap on her shoe. That’s what this song sounds like.
9. A Sorta Fairytale
Her biggest radio hit in the States, and the best thing she’s done since 98. I’ve left everything on Strange Little Girls off of this album because a) it’s cheating to put covers on a best of and b) because it’s not very good. There is something that appeals in my sense of humour in her covering Eminem though. And she does better than the boy Mathers on his own track, as well, because she understands a lot more about violence and creeping terror than 99.9% of musicians kicking about at the moment. Not just because of her past experience, but because pianos are conductive to pain. They’re heavier than most other instruments, for a start.
10. Past The Mission
OK, she wants to re-record? She can re-record this one. Specifically, she can perform it in the manner she did on Rhodes and piano. Not to take away from the album version, but there’s always been a greatness in Amos that she doesn’t just go “I play piano, I play this piano, here is me playing this piano for an entire career”.
11. Jackie’s Strength
I know I’ve over-represented From The Choirgirl Hotel, but it’s my favourite album, so I’m allowed to, OK mermaid? A floating, rambling, episodic work that basically explores fifty different flavours of femininity, taking the strength Jacqueline Kennedy showed after her husband’s brain was splattered over her shoulder as a vehicle for female strength.
12. Silent All These Years
This is the one that got used when Amos was touring the UK in 1998 on the radio adverts for her tour. The guy doing the voiceover called her “Miss Tori Ah-moss”, which always irritated me. Opening chords like a ballerina practicing. One of her warmest songs, almost friendly, even though it does deal with her inability to talk about her darkest moments of her life until “Little Earthquakes”. And “Boy you best pray that I bleed real soon/ How’s that thought for you?” is worth fifty episodes of Sex In The City.
13. Cornflake Girl
The other hit. Half New Orleans funeral, half wedding march. Note the way Tori rolls the “l” in girl. She does that a lot. Nonsensical lyrics. It was a hit from nowhere, really, very little before or afterwards in the 90s sounded like this. You have to roll your neck around whilst listening to it as well.
14. Happy Phantom
She (or the guy at the record label trying to work out the worst tracklisting possible) put “Mr Zebra” on the album, but this is my favourite retardedly dumb Tori song. It may well have a deeper meaning, but… “I’ll go wearing my naughties like a jewel”. What a lyric. Did Groucho Marx play piano? I forget. He’d have sounded like this if he did and was on Lilith Fair, definitely.
15. Raspberry Swirl
You didn’t come here to hear me talk, you just wanna dance, huh? I make no apologies for not putting either Armand’s butchery of “Professional Widow”, or BT’s (better) mix of “Blue Skies” on this album, especially when we’ve got this. Booty-shaking, hair tossing, growling, snarling, pouting, “Boy you better make her raspberry swirl”. Tori sings like an asthmatic throughout, breathless, “everybody knows I’m her man”. You put the emotional peak ¾ of the way through, you see?
16. Cloud On My Tongue
This song is what Vanessa Carlton has spent the past three years trying to recreate, and has failed on every single occasion.
17. Muhammed My Friend (featuring Maynard James Keenan)
OK, OK, who’s going to buy an album just for stuff they own already, huh? How about this live favourite turned into a studio track then, a take on Boys For Pele’s “Muhammed My Friend” featuring every art student’s favourite fucker of female professional wrestlers Maynard James Keenan. It works, as well.
For the false start. For the way that it feels like it belongs soundtracking someone running through a lot of leaves. For the stutter that Amos adopts on the lyrics. For “Don’t cry, you raised your hand for the assignment”. For how “Green limousine for the redhead dancing girl” is the perfect summation of Amos’ career to date. For how it’s great.
19. Me And A Gun
It’s hard to know what to write about this song, really, being as it is Amos’ own graphic description of her pre-fame rape by a demented fan. I wouldn’t have included it on a “best of”, but if Amos still feels comfortable with it… it’s her most important work, anyway.
20. The Wrong Band
Inevitable, self-referential end track. Sounds like a sitcom theme tune, but then, that’s what they say about every song that comes out nowadays.
By: Dom Passantino
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