1996, Music

Boys for Pele (1996) by Tori Amos

So sure, this is denser than her previous albums but I’m kind of mystified by how it’s viewed as “difficult” by so many people. It’s still a woman with a beautiful voice singing relatively conventional songs. I guess we listen to different things…

Okay, so the songs aren’t that conventional, compared to her earlier songs, sure, but particularly compared to her contemporaries that she was inevitably compared with. (I’d argue Tori Amos was a different beast from her debut, but I get the tendency of humans to classify, and there was just an explosion of female singer-songwriters at the time.) The hooks aren’t always where you would expect and this is certainly not her catchiest set of songs.

The album’s most controversial aspect is the lyrics, a controversy no doubt helped by statements she’s made about her career and men in relation to the record. I am one of those music fans who prefers poetry to plainer language when it comes to lyrics. And I’d like to think I know good poetry from bad, even when I’m unsure of the true meaning. In fact, one might argue the point of poetry is to allow more than literal meanings of words. I understand these lyrics are dense, but are they bad? Would a man have taken similar shit for them?

There’s a change in aesthetic: Amos has expander her choice of instruments but also some of the arrangements are more elaborate than they were on earlier records, though some are quite simple. And Amos the performer is in fine form, the reason I suspect most of us listen to her.

The production varies a little from track to track and I wonder if that has anything to do with the two recording locations. The good news is that it only sounds dated on a couple of tracks, and that’s usually down to some idiosyncratic mixing choices.

All in all, a fine album from one of the best songwriters of her generation. (Never mind her strengths as an interpretive artist as there are no covers here.) It’s a virtue that it doesn’t sound like the first two, folks.


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