Last week’s selection of Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes turned out to be a bit controversial. I expected some would question my choice, but it still came as a surprise that Tori continues to be a such polarizing figure in the music world. Several people refused to even attempt to listen to the album this week since they despise her so much.
It reminded me of when I first bought the cassette of her debut in 1992. All but one of my friends at the time (I was in junior high) ridiculed her music and acted like I was a weirdo for liking it. Of course, those same friends suddenly jumped on the Tori bandwagon when Under the Pink became popular two years later. Yet despite her growing fanbase in subsequent years, I always seem to have to defend my affection for her music. The stigma of being a “Toriphile” increased so much after the Boys for Pele era (thanks to a new, irksome generation of teenybopper, faerie-winged fans) that I stopped telling people I liked her.
I certainly understand why people don’t like her music now, I personally haven’t been able to stomach any of her albums since Scarlet’s Walk. And I do get that even her older albums are an acquired taste. Yet I’m still mystified by the venomous, condescending reaction the name Tori Amos evokes from even the most peaceful, music-loving people.
Even more puzzling is the way even critics have often diminished Tori’s talent by comparing her (unfavorably) to other piano playing female artists, particularly Kate Bush. There were obvious similarities in their whimsical styles, but the insulting comparisons more often seemed directed toward their gender and instrument of choice. And in the past two decades, every new female artist who plays piano has been compared to Tori in the same way she was likened to Kate (whom I’ve been told was herself compared to Laura Nyro). This ridiculous practice has even included artists in entirely other genres and styles, such as Alicia Keys. You rarely see male pianists or even female guitarists lumped together in such a way.
Granted, it was impossible for me to listen to the album with any objectivity because it is attached to so many of my adolescent memories. But not only was the music on the album unusual for its time, the songs still have power now. Particularly in the early 1990s when it was first released, it was unheard of for any artist to sing so openly and honestly about issues such as religion and sexual abuse as Tori did on Little Earthquakes. Not many have since then either.
But I digress. While listening to Little Earthquakes last night, I tried to focus mostly on the music. Even if you strip away everything else – her passionate way of singing, her personal and metaphoric lyrics, the innovative way she layered vocals and melodies – the piano playing alone was extraordinary on this album. I’ve never heard anyone pound a piano the way she did in “Precious Things.” It’s an extremely moody listen and the latter half of the album loses some of its strength, but there are several songs that still give me chills. It’s sad that her bland recent releases have overshadowed her past accomplishments, because I still maintain that Little Earthquakes is a true classic. But we’ll step back a few decades for a more mainstream choice next week…
This week’s classic album will be…The Beatles: Abbey Road
To recap the procedure here: At the beginning of each week, I’ll post brief thoughts on the previous week’s listening experience along with the coming week’s classic album selection. Then sometime in the week that follows, we’ll all take the time to listen to the album from beginning to end with no distractions. It can be as simple as just getting away from the computer to listen alone or you can make an event of it with candles, beverages and friends. Whatever format you play the album in or the manner in which you listen, just give the music your full and undivided attention.
Feel free to comment or email your opinions of our selections and recommendations for classic albums (from any decade, including this one).