Tori Amos, “Boys for Pele”

Artist: Amos, Tori
Title: Boys for Pele
Release Date: 1996

Tori Amos, Boys for Pele, released 1996 by Atlantic Recording Corporation

Beauty Queen
1) Horses
2) Blood Roses
3) Father Lucifer
4) Professional Widow
5)    Mr. Zebra
6) Marianne
7) Caught a Lite Sneeze
8) Muhammad My Friend
9) Hey Jupiter
10)    Way Down
11) Little Amsterdam
12) Talula
13) Not The Red Baron
14)    Agent Orange
15) Doughnut Song
16) In The Springtime of His Voodoo
17) Putting The Damage On
18)    Twinkle

Boys for Pele sounds raw. Not as in unfinished or crude, but unfiltered, unadulterated, and uncompromising, almost too visceral. Almost every song feels incredibly intimate, as if we’re peering into something private – part of this is due to the more flexible rhythmic feel of each song, but I believe most is attributable to the fact that she uses her voice to its fullest, willfully unpolished, as we can hear every swoop, screech, and crack in her singing.

I think this is her best album, though some of my favorite of her signature techniques are somewhat less prominent – the songs are more “normalizable”, and there’s less of her singing against herself. She experiments further with texture and sound: on the opening track, she feeds her piano through a Leslie cabinet, making it sound as if the piano is being remembered rather than played; others feature older keyboard instruments, including a particularly badass harpsichord part on “Professional Widow”. And as I said, her approach to tempo is more organic and fluid, with a nearly classical nuance.

There are missteps, though – in comparison to the more intense songs on the album, the failures of the blander, poppier ones are made more apparent. I find three of the songs basically unlistenable: “Muhammad My Friend”, which is tiresome and heavy-handed; “Talula”, just plain boring; and “Putting The Damage On”, which doesn’t ever seem to go anywhere.

The “indented” songs are short, 1-2 minute tracks, and I think they’re tributes to music from the ’70s she liked – at least, “Mr. Zebra” reminds me greatly of Queen’s “Killer Queen” and “Agent Orange” is strongly reminiscent of Joni Mitchell’s “Blue”.

I think Boys for Pele an incredible album, as she pushes the boundary in both emotional intensity and musical experimentation. It’s not perfect, and it’s often not easy to listen to, but it’s well worth it.