Tori Amos, “Little Earthquakes”

Artist: Amos, Tori
Title: Little Earthquakes
Release Date: 1992

Tori Amos, Little Earthquakes, released 1991 by Atlantic Records

1) Crucify
2) Girl
3) Silent All These Years
4) Precious Things
5) Winter
6) Happy Phantom
7) China
8) Leather
9) Mother
10) Tear in Your Hand
11) Me and a Gun
12) Little Earthquakes

The music Tori Amos makes could be best described as idiosyncratic, emotionally intense piano-based pop/rock; and no discussion of her music is complete without at least a mention of her lyrics, which tend to polarize listeners, as her writing walks the fine line between highly personal and self-indulgent[1]. She’s an incredible musician, wicked hot, and I was mildly obsessed with her until her fourth album[2]. Though she turned her back on her classical conservatory training, it’s nevertheless apparent in her approach to composition.

Nearly all of her music is centered on the piano, and her voice is versatile enough to follow the wide range of her songs’ subjects, from the confessional to the playful to the resigned. She’s not content to stick to one thing, even within a single track – she’ll suddenly switch gears and inject a moment of ferocity into an otherwise placid song – although her experimentation would go farther afield in later albums. My favorite parts of her music are when she sings in counterpoint against herself.

It surprises me to find that the only songs I really love on this album are “Mother”, which is a gorgeous, quiet, and subtle song, and “Precious Things”, which is wild and angry[3]. All the others I find compelling more from their intimacy, and the force of Tori’s personality; though certainly sophisticated and polished, and with lovely and powerful moments, they’re no longer particularly arresting. I still like them, and there are some great turns of phrase in her words, but I think in some part I loved them because of my crush on her.

Little Earthquakes seems to be mostly about women’s relationships (not necessarily her own) to men; to Jesus, to fathers, to lovers. And, of course, there’s “Me and a Gun”, which is about her rape. In retrospect, it’s a good and promising debut, but there’s still an element of the conventional about her music (such as her arrangements, which are often relatively standard pop) that she manages to shed in her later, better CDs. And, of course, Little Earthquakes may have more meaning for you if you’re more focused on words than I am.

(1) I’ve heard her compared to Kate Bush, which is pretty legitimate.

(2) Unless you count Y Kant Tori Read as her first.

(3) That may have to do with the fact that they’re the most rhythmically interesting, both based on splitting two 4/4 bars into a 3+3+3+3+2+2 sequence.