Album: Tori Amos – “Little Earthquakes” (1992)

As I have alluded to in the past, between 2009 and 2011 I had a spell of writing reviews for a messageboard, going through different artists’ back catalogues album by album. It all started when I finally started exploring the works of Tori Amos. She had always intrigued me as an artist, and while her most commercially successful days are seemingly behind her, there were plenty of her tracks that I was vaguely aware of that I quite liked.

I think my main memory of Tori was her “From the choirgirl hotel” album, which I loved when I was about 16. As a result, I bought up some of her old albums over the ensuing years, and kept up to date with her for a good 5 years before drifting off. However the trip through her back catalogue was definitely worth doing and I felt like my horizons had been broadened to some extent as a result. Looking back, my original reviews are brief and a bit crappy, so I’m going back through the albums one more time. Wish me luck.

I have reasonable memories of “Little Earthquakes”. I unexpectedly got my copy when its former owner lost it behind a drawer when I moved into my halls of residence at university. Their loss was my gain, and while I perhaps never got the connection with the album that many did, it’s a solid debut and perhaps one of her most accessible albums (that’s not saying much).

08 Crucify – A great one to kick off with, and people only really familiar with “Cornflake girl” might feel at home with this classic Tori sound. Piano-led and impenetrable lyrics – or at least to me, even 4 years later I’m none the wiser, apart from expecting most of her songs to be about rape or vaginas. It’s a strong opening, and has that “chaaiiyaaaiyaaains” hook in the chorus. A bit bleak and desperate, but might as well start as we mean to go on, eh?

07 Girl – More down-tempo but that piano is still providing most of the atmospherics. I love Tori’s voice here, despite probably not listening to this since 2009 that chorus is still familiar. That moody throbbing noise on the chorus is a bit creepy. The gear-shift at the halfway point is a bit chaotic and noisy but I sort of like it. But it’s back down to Earth for the last leg. Memorable if a bit unsettling.

10 Silent all these years – Now THIS is the stuff, I really love this one. Recently given a polish on last year’s “Gold Dust” collection, but this is one of my favourite Tori songs these days. That piano is still sneaking around in the background, while Tori drops some lyrical bombs “Boy, you’d best pray that I bleed real soon” … ack… not exactly romantic, as Tori seems to be yearning for something better. That “years go by” middle-eight is just magical, but then suddenly it’s over and her mother turns up in a nasty dress. Love this so much.

09 Precious things – Can you feel the drama? Tori’s got more signature tracks in the bag, with this (and “Winter”) making it to “Gold Dust”. The instrumentation is really gorgeous, that nervous jittering riff at the start is a real mood-setter. Tori wasn’t to smash some Christian boys’ faces in. As per usual I’m not 100% sure what’s going on, but those manic moments of pianos of drums with Tori’s anguished wailing over the top really works brilliantly. I might only be enjoying some of this on a superficial level, but I’m still enjoying it.

08 Winter – A bit more straightforward this time, at least some of this is definitely about winter. I mean actual winter, not winter of the soul or anything. Instrumentally it’s played a little straighter too, it’s got some really lovely piano moments, like the “When you gonna make up your mind?” chorus hook. Her voice has a distinctive shakiness about it, but you can tell it’s not a fault, or at least it’s one that works in the favour of the music. Very atmospheric, really like this.

07 Happy phantom – This is very jaunty isn’t it? Ghost Tori is chasing nuns. Always look on the bright side of death, eh? She’s certainly looking forward to all sorts of spectral hi-jinks, haunting people who have done her wrong, indulging in some spooky mischief. A bit of a curveball in what has been a fairly serious album so far. Quite enjoyable really.

09 China – I just keep hearing the start of “Perfect” from Jagged Little Pill in this opening melody. It’s really lovely though, very gentle, that backing music really just makes me melt … the pacing of the album is a bit erratic though, with “Happy Phantom” in the middle all this. Love this though, really gorgeous.

06 Leather – Something here’s not really clicking with me, I don’t really like the weather/forever/leather rhymes. I like the breathy “Oh… God…” bits, and the jangly piano solo, but no, sorry.

07 Mother – That extended piano intro is really nice, I do love her on the piano. Takes a little while to get going but it’s easy to get lost in that first minute. Ugh I wish I was more perceptive, I still feel like I’m not really getting what she’s singing about, I should have taken some literature appreciation course or something. I think this is about leaving home and getting married? Christ knows. Anyway, the anxious sound of the chorus, that “Mother, the car is here” has a really sad tone to it. I like this but I’m annoyed at myself for being dense.

07 Tear in your hand – Fortunately I don’t feel so tested on this one, just some baroque-sounding piano (did I use that right? I’m a charlatan). At least here I can be forgiven for not understanding because the vocals are quite lazy and slurred. It washes over me a bit but I’m enjoying the sound of this album.

Me and a gun – Oops, serves me right for getting complacent – it must be time for an acapella rape ballad, of course! Hey, why not release it as a single (this happened)?! I’m a little perplexed by this not being put at the end of the album, talk about breaking up the flow. Very eerie, and I’m not sure what to make of it. Of course it’s a terrible thing that happened, and I’m sure it’s done a lot of good raising awareness – it’s just in the middle of an album, no music … I’m not sure what I think. I didn’t score it, I think it would be really weird to rate a rape account out of 10, don’t you?

06 Little earthquakes – How do you follow that last track? Come on, last track – what have we got left? It seems she’s saved one of the most nondescript tracks for last, a shame for it to be the title track really. Reading the lyrics again I’m missing the point. It’s alright but the melody hasn’t grabbed me at all.

4 years on, I feel like I enjoyed this album a lot more – particularly the highlights stand out even more as brilliant moments in Tori’s debut. I’m still struggling to get everything out of the album though as I simply don’t understand what a lot of the songs are about. Reduced to enjoying a lot of the album purely for musical value leaves me thinking I’ve missed out – but still, musically I do really like it. The piano and other classical instrumentation, as well as Tori’s emotional and tormented vocals really make this a great debut.

Keepers for the iPod: Silent all these years, Precious things, Winter, China, Mother, Happy Phantom


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