Tori Amos, “Under the Pink”

Artist: Amos, Tori
Title: Under the Pink
Release Date: 1994

Tori Amos, Under the Pink, released 1994 by Atlantic Records

1) Pretty Good Year
2) God
3) Bells for Her
4) Past the Mission
5) Baker Baker
6) The Wrong Band
7) The Waitress
8) Cornflake Girl
9) Icicle
10) Cloud on My Tongue
11) Space Dog
12) Yes, Anastasia

One of the basic techniques in the production of pop music is called “normalization”: flattening out the dynamics of a song so that it all comes out at pretty much the same volume, so as to make music easier to broadcast on the radio. It has been argued that this homogenizes pop music and discourages real creativity within the genre.

And so one of the things that makes Under the Pink particularly unusual is the wide variation within many of the songs, the way they grow and build, or suddenly veer in a different direction. For example, the opening song “Pretty Good Year” is a placid, gentle song that suddenly breaks out into a furious rage before settling back down as if nothing had happened. Or the epic “Yes, Anastasia”, which begins with a single piano note, and grows into a lush piece with string orchestra.

It’s stronger musically than Little Earthquakes; Tori’s melodies and harmonies are more ambiguous and compelling, she makes occasional use of unusual meters[1] and dissonance has a much stronger presence, particularly in the track that first made me interested in her, “God”[2], as well as “The Waitress” and “Space Dog”[3]. Even a delicate song like “Bells for Her” features a piano that’s been detuned to sound old and forgotten[4]. And she still makes extensive use of counterpoint, both in the piano part and with her voice against itself, one of my favorite things about her music.

Lyrically, it seems to be less confessional and more distanced than her first album, though still personal…sometimes a bit infuriatingly so, making reference to things and people only she knows.

Most of Under the Pink seems to be about warring emotional states, the conflict between how we feel and how we want to feel, or about an internal world breaking through our exterior, and the music often reflects that struggle with its shifts, sometimes subtle and sometimes brutal.

(1) Much of “God” is in what amounts to 7/2, and “Yes, Anastasia” flits back and forth between 2/4, 4/4, and 5/4.

(2) Which features screeching guitars throughout, and exploits the tritone between the 3rd and 6th degrees of Dorian mode.

(3) Which draws a lot from Bartók, and heavily inspired my piece Lightning Fields, though I didn’t realize it at the time.

(4) She would actually take a detuned upright piano on her 2nd and 3rd tours just for this song. It sounded really beautiful.