Tori Amos, “from the choirgirl hotel”

Artist: Amos, Tori
Title: from the choirgirl hotel
Release Date: 1998

Tori Amos, from the choirgirl hotel, released 1998 by Atlantic Recording Corporation

1) Spark
2) Cruel
3) Black-Dove (January)
4) Raspberry Swirl
5) Jackie’s Strength
6) i i e e e
7) Liquid Diamonds
8) She’s Your Cocaine
9) Northern Lad
10) Hotel
11) Playboy Mommy
12) Pandora’s Aquarium

Under the Pink and Boys for Pele begin and end with the piano on its own. So it’s a significant statement when Tori starts from the choirgirl hotel with a four-piece rock band – the piano doesn’t enter until the chorus of the first song. She’s telling us she’s tired of being identified so closely with the piano, that she wants to do something different as a musician[1]. Does it work? Well, yes and no.

On Boys for Pele her music was starting to go in two different directions: one intensely introspective, almost stream-of-consciousness personal, the other more pop-based and expansive. from the choirgirl hotel leans strongly towards the latter, and loses something as a result.

She remains an excellent musician, and so the album is still well-crafted and polished…but something’s missing. Many of the things I loved most about her music are no longer present: her willingness to experiment with contrapuntal textures, unusual harmonies, epic and idiosyncratic arrangements[2] is nearly absent; and the intimacy of her earlier songs is completely gone. There are still tracks I love; in particular, the desperation of “i i e e e”, the murkiness of “Liquid Diamonds”, and “Pandora’s Aquarium”[3].

Turning towards more conventional pop made her music more…well…conventional, bland, sanitized. It’s certainly possible that she felt the need to consolidate her skills in this new arena before stretching its boundaries. But despite some admittedly gorgeous moments, the CD feels disappointing, like a medical school graduate deciding to work as a short-order cook.

(1) It’s my understanding that she’s on the record as saying she felt she took the “girl with a piano” thing as far as she could.

(2) Though her pleasingly slippery approach to rhythm and meter remains.

(3) Maybe because it seems it could go on Under the Pink.